I'll get this out of the way right off the bat. Penn State isn't going to be a Top 25 team in the Associated Press preseason poll. Its offense isn't talented enough, and its defense can't carry them for 12 games.
I know. That sounds exactly like last year's team, but this year is different. Penn State's offense has actually taken a step backward, and there's no doubt that the tumultuous offseason Penn State has gone through will play a factor in its preseason standing.
Maybe it shouldn't, but it will. Voters will see the instability surrounding Penn State's program regardless of Bill O'Brien's admirable efforts to keep the team focused on the field.
When AP voters look at Penn State's team, they're going to see a team that will struggle to score points. Matt McGloin threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns last season, and he has far less talent around him this year.
Penn State's offensive line has four fresh faces. Justin Brown's departure leaves Penn State with a multitude of unproven, albeit talented, pass-catchers. Silas Redd's decision to join USC leaves Bill Belton as the primary ball-carrier this season with Curtis Dukes and freshman Akeel Lynch splitting backup duties.
It's not that there isn't talent there, but McGloin is the most experienced player of the bunch. He will be expected to lead the Nittany Lion offense despite his marginal talent and erratic decision-making.
That doesn't bode well in the eyes of poll voters.
Defensively, it's a different story. Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti and Glenn Carson form one of the country's strongest linebacker units. Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley also lead a very strong Penn State defensive line.
The front seven is wrought with talent, and players like Deion Barnes provide quality depth up front.
That's not the problem, but the secondary could be. Adrian Amos is, at least in my opinion, destined for a breakout campaign in 2012. He's a versatile player, and he can cover a lot of ground against the pass or run.
Everyone else is a bigger question. Stephon Morris should be better in Ted Roof's man coverage schemes, but the rest of the secondary is vastly unproven. Players like Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong figure to receive plenty of playing time, but as upperclassmen, there's a reason they haven't earlier in their careers.
The Nittany Lions have their strengths, but AP poll voters won't put them in the Top 25. You won't find them in the "others receiving votes" category either.
My estimation, and this won't be documented, is that Penn State is somewhere in the Top 40 or 50. It isn't the worst team in college football, but its offense will hold it back from early consideration among the nation's best.
Like last year that could change. but more than seven wins for the Nittany Lions this year would be surprising.