Penn State students gather around the Joe Paterno statue after learning of the coach's death.
The Penn State Nittany Lions' 2011 football season will forever be remembered for the scandal that erupted towards the end of the season and the tragedies that would soon follow.
When it went public that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had been arrested on November 5, 2011 for sexual abuse, the entire campus was on the brink of eruption. Everyone knew that more was right around the corner for Penn State; however, what exactly that entailed was unclear.
A few days later on November 8, it became clear.
Long time football head coach Joe Paterno was fired.
His termination triggered the chaos that many will remember seeing on the evening news that improperly painted the student body as vicious students engaging in pure lawlessness. Long time defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley, took over for Paterno with the Nittany Lions at an amazing 8-1 record.
Then, the final blow came on January 13, 2012.
Joe Paterno passed away.
The Nittany Lions finished the regular season with a 9-3 record, which included an embarrassing final game blowout defeat by Wisconsin to lose control of the Big Ten Leaders Division, which they had led the entire season. Furthermore, they suffered another embarrassing defeat in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl to the University of Houston, to end the season at 9-4.
With the season over, the school cleaned house leaving very few people from Paterno's staff. This shift also left the 2012 season and the future of Penn State football in a cloud of unknown.
However, let us try to look into that cloud and lay down a few bold predictions for what you can expect from the Penn State Nittany Lions in the near future.
If there is one thing that Penn State fans should not be questioning, it is the choice to go with Matt McGloin as the starting quarterback for the 2012 season.
Rob Bolden never fully panned out, which was a true shame. He has a great arm strength and is solid on the run. He is also, when he chooses to be, very smart at decision making, knowing when to make plays with his arm or with his feet.
However, his inconsistent play is too much of a negative that holds him back, especially in big games.
Matt McGloin is the Nittany Lions best bet to win in 2012, and that isn't a bad thing. When McGloin took the helm in the middle of the 2010 season, McGloin led the Nittany Lions to a 4-2 record with 13 touchdowns, four interceptions and 1,337 yards passing. Also, he averaged a QB rating of 142.8 and a completion percentage of 57.25.
And who can forget the amazing 35-point comeback that McGloin led against Northwestern to help Joe Paterno win his 400th game?
McGloin can play. His poor 2011 season is the result of the coaching staff's inability to pick a starter and stick by him. The constant shuffling of McGloin and Bolden not only left the offense unable to find a rhythm, but it also left McGloin and Bolden unable to solidify their spot as the starter. They would be rotated in and out after every drive or mistake. Neither was given a chance to get his rhythm, leading to an inconsistent offense as a whole that—at times—had to shift between Bolden's and McGloin's different playing styles.
New head coach Bill O'Brien made a smart decision and decided to pick a starter now, so the offense knows who their leader is. This is not only going to allow the offense to come together, but it is going to let McGloin have the time to master O'Brien's unique system.
McGloin has the ability to win games (7-4 as a starter; 12-4 as the primary quarterback) having beaten every team in the Big Ten besides Michigan State (lost 28-22 in 2010), Nebraska (lost 17-14 in 2011) and Wisconsin (lost 45-7 in 2011).
With full control of the offense, expect McGloin to have a successful season in O'Brien's new offensive scheme in 2012.
The schedule in O'Brien's first year is also very promising. According to GoPSUsports.com, their schedule looks like the following:
9/1/12 vs. Ohio
9/8/12 at Virginia
9/15/12 vs. Navy
9/22/12 vs. Temple
9/29/12 at Illinois
10/6/12 vs. Northwestern
10/20/12 at Iowa
10/27/12 vs. Ohio State
11/3/12 at Purdue
11/10/12 at Nebraska
11/17/12 vs. Indiana
11/24/12 vs. Wisconsin
The Nittany Lions should be able to win all four of their out of conference games. Ohio and Virginia should pose no threat. Temple will not be the same team that almost beat Penn State in 2011. Their star running back Bernard Pierce declared for the draft, leaving a gap at the position. This should be another easy win for the Nittany Lions.
Navy will pose a threat with Kriss Proctor and Alexander Teich leading a very good ground game. Navy ranked fourth in rushing yards last year, but I still believe the Nittany Lions will find a way to beat them.
With respect to their in-conference schedule, only four games really stand out as potential difficulties for the Nittany Lions with their trips to Iowa and Nebraska, as well as the home games against Ohio State and Wisconsin.
Iowa and Nebraska will be new teams with Nebraska returning 10 starters and Iowa returning 12. Look for these games to be close and possible Penn State victories. Also, Ohio State and Wisconsin will have completely different looks with Ohio State welcoming a new head coach, Urban Meyer, and Wisconsin unsure who their replacement will be for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Look for Penn State to possibly pull off two wins here as well.
The Nittany Lions should finish their season 8-4 at worst, and there is a great potential they could even be 9-2 going into their final game against Wisconsin. The winner of that game could be going to the Big Ten Championship most likely against Nebraska, Michigan State or Michigan.
With a new offensive system, a determined new head coach, talented experienced players and a favorable schedule, expect the Nittany Lions to be Leaders Division contenders all season long.
Coach Bill O'Brien will be using an offense that has a bit of the same flavor that the New England Patriots have. When you think of the New England Patriot's offense, you think of Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
All those players are top performers in the NFL.
When you think of Penn State's offense, Matt McGloin, Silas Redd, Justin Brown and Devon Smith come to mind. Redd, Brown and Smith are three very athletic players O'Brien will be able to use properly and often.
The big change you can expect from Coach O'Brien will be the emergence of the tight end position. I firmly believe that it will play a key part in O'Brien's offensive scheme. Currently, O'Brien's offense looks to have a "Y" and "F" tight end. The "Y" will be the blocker and the "F" will be the blocking and receiving hybrid that we see in New England.
With that in mind, expect big things from Kyle Carter and Kevin Haplea, who will be called on to become this "F" tight end. Both Carter and Haplea may even outshine receiver Devon Smith, who could see reduced playing time due to the emergence of Alex Kenney and Shawney Kersey.
Also, don't expect this "Y" and "F" scheme to be a one-time thing. In 2013, Penn State will be welcoming No. 1 tight end recruit Adam Breneman, the perfect player to fill the "F" role at 6'5" and 230 lbs.
According to Scout.com, Breneman caught 72 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns in his high school junior season at Cedar Cliff High School, in Camp Hill, PA. If these numbers don't mirror those of Rob Gronkowski, then you can turn to the next slide, but expect even more from the tight end position when Breneman arrives in 2013.
The 2012 football season will mark the first year in 62 years that Joe Paterno will not be a part of the Penn State coaching staff.
Enter Bill O'Brien.
O'Brien has quite a number of years of experience coaching. He's been on coaching staffs at Brown University, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Duke and most recently, the New England Patriots.
At the college level, O'Brien has a 75-68 record (but his 1-22 record at Duke jades his overall record and ability as a coach since the program hasn't been to a bowl game since 1995 or ranked since 1962).
He has been an offensive assistant for six top 25 teams including the 1998 No. 9 Georgia Tech squad that defeated No. 17 Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl, the 2001 No. 24 Georgia Tech squad that stunned No. 11 Stanford in the Seattle Bowl and the 2003 No. 17 Maryland squad that beat No. 23 West Virginia in the Gator Bowl.
With that stated, O'Brien can clearly coach and has guided a number of great teams.
After his college years, he went on to join the coaching staff for the New England Patriots as an offensive assistant in 2007. Who can forget the 2007 season. The Patriots went 18-0 before their one Giant loss.
With O'Brien on board, the Patriots have made it to the playoffs four out of five seasons (the one season they didn't Tom Brady was injured) including two Super Bowl appearances. O'Brien has also helped coach Tom Brady to two NFL MVPs and Offensive Player of the Year awards.
O'Brien has already completely re-tooled the Penn State staff. Fans shouldn't expect to see the Spread HD like Joe Paterno was running in his final seasons. They should expect an offense so unique that even O'Brien can't tell you what it is. It will of course show some of the same flavor that we saw in New England, but it will be something completely original from Bill O'Brien.
This also means players like Silas Redd, Paul Jones, Justin Brown, Devon Smith and Kyle Carter, among others, will be used to their full athletic potential.
Furthermore, teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Iowa need to prepare for a new Penn State football team. This isn't the conventional Joe Paterno Nittany Lions. This is a completely different team with a completely different approach to football.
O'Brien has the talent—with two top 16 recruiting classes (2009 and 2010)—to completely turn the program around, and that is what everyone should expect. Also, the 2013 class currently ranks at No. 15 according to Scout.com highlighted by the No. 1 TE in Adam Breneman and the No. 12 QB in Christian Hackenberg.
The future is bright for a Bill O'Brien Penn State football team, so look for Penn State to be a serious national competitor starting in 2012.
2012 will be the year of Matt McGloin, but 2013 will be the year of Paul Jones.
Rob Bolden will most likely transfer. He has been talking about leaving since the end of the 2010 season when he realized that he wouldn't be the full-time starter. With McGloin the starter for this season and Paul Jones as his backup, look for Rob Bolden to transfer.
This will leave the door wide open for Paul Jones to start in 2013 AND 2014 (unless he goes above and beyond expectations in the 2013 season and is convinced to leave early for the NFL draft, but that is highly unlikely).
For those that don't know the name, Paul Jones was the gem out of the 2010 recruiting class. He was the third best quarterback coming out of the class and a 5-star prospect. Many thought he was going to start his freshman year, seeing him as a more equipped successor to Daryl Clark than Kevin Newsome. However, poor grades caused Penn State to restrict Jones from playing his freshman and sophomore year.
But now, he is eligible to play. He will be assigned in the 2012 season to back up Matt McGloin, and in 2013, the team will be his.
Paul Jones is big at 6'3" and above 220 lbs. He is agile and has an accurate, as well as powerful, arm. He has all the skill sets required to win games. Many compare him to Donovan McNabb. For those wondering what McNabb was like in college, he played all four years at Syracuse with 8,389 yards passing, 77 touchdowns, 26 interceptions, 1,561 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns leading the Syracuse Orange to the 1998 Orange Bowl.
McNabb was a pure athlete who was able to make plays with his arm and feet. Paul Jones is going to be able to do just that and will have one year from the bench to learn and master Bill O'Brien's offensive scheme. Upon taking the reigns in 2013, expect Jones to lead the Nittany Lions to one, if not two, BCS Bowl games in 2013 and 2014, helping Bill O'Brien bring Penn State back to national prominence.