Penn State's home opener on Saturday will represent a return to normalcy to a university where life has been anything but normal for the majority of the last year.
While the school will always remain cognizant of the sexual abuse scandal that led to the implementation of devastating NCAA sanctions on both the football program and the university in general, Saturday is the beginning of a long healing process for an irreparably damaged community.
Week 1 of Penn State's season is anything but a fresh start for the football program itself, but it will be exactly that for several players that did not have significant roles a year ago. Let's take a look at three guys who will have a big impact against the Ohio Bobcats.
Bill Belton (RB, Sophomore)
Bill Belton was featured mostly in Wildcat formations last year. However, with the departure of Silas Redd, Belton is going to be heavily relied upon and will see the majority of the offense's rushing attempts. Nobody on this roster is capable of replacing Redd, but Belton must be able to produce on a respectable level for the Nittany Lions to have success this season.
The Ohio Bobcats gave up almost 200 rushing yards per game last season. If Penn State can't run on this defense, they are in for a long year. Look for PSU to get Belton the ball early and often, and then let quarterback Matt McGloin air it out late.
Allen Robinson (WR, Sophomore)
With the departure of Justin Brown, Allen Robinson will be relied upon to play an integral part in the Nittany Lions' arial attack in 2012. As a freshman last season, he played in 12 games, started one of them, but only hauled in three catches.
This season we could see him emerge as Matt McGloin's top target. Robinson's 6'3" frame and improved speed will make him a threat to make plays down the field. Not only will defenses have to account for him on every play, but he will create more space for the rest of the offense to operate.
Look for this kid to have a big impact on Saturday. Ohio has nobody that can effectively matchup with Robinson, so he will see his fair share of targets throughout the contest.
Deion Barnes (DE, Redshirt Freshman)
Barnes redshirted last season. However, he will start at defensive end this Saturday. He is painfully inexperienced, but he has all the physical abilities to become a dominant player in the Big Ten. His 6'4", 246-pound frame, along with his elite quickness, will make him tough for any opposing offensive tackle.
While we can't expect the world from Barnes in his first NCAA action, he should play well against an inferior opponent. The team is relying on him against Ohio, and he is being counted on to become the anchor of this defense for the foreseeable future. Look for Barnes to seize this opportunity in front of the Beaver Stadium crowd this weekend.