Undoubtedly, the next few seasons at Penn State are going to be difficult. The NCAA sanctions that include a four-year bowl ban and damaging scholarship reductions will be felt for years to come by a program that was once considered one of the best in the nation.
So what does the future hold for Penn State?
While it's hard to predict the full effect of the sanctions, one can speculate which of the next four years will be the toughest for coaches, players and fans to endure.
The current Nittany Lions team consists of a core of senior leaders who felt it was important to stick around and help rebuild the once proud program. Matt McGloin, Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley have all played major roles in 2012, helping the Lions reach their current record of 5-3.
Unfortunately, those seniors have only four more games in their college careers. That means that at the end of this season, Penn State will have major holes to fill in its starting lineup.
Since the number of scholarships will be limited, Penn State is going to have to pay special attention to who is recruited.
While some recruits will look to the NFL potential from playing in Bill O'Brien's pro offense, others will shy away from the negativity and the fact that they won't experience a bowl game until later in their career.
Rivals.com has the 2013 Penn State recruiting class ranked as the No. 43 class. That's not too bad considering the current circumstances.
However, even with top quarterback recruit Christian Hackenberg and top tight end Adam Breneman, the 2013-14 season has the potential of being the toughest of the upcoming years. Yes, many key players from 2012 such as wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter are set to return for the 2013 season, but that's not a guarantee. According to the NCAA sanctions, current players have until next August to transfer schools without penalty.
There has been zero talk of any current players transferring, but it's not unrealistic to think that current stars will be heavily recruited by other BCS schools. If that were to happen, Penn State would be left scrambling to plug inexperienced players into its starting lineup.
It's for that reason that 2013 will be the toughest. O'Brien could lose players right up until just before the season.
Another factor that likely will make the 2013 season the toughest is the reality that each year brings the end of the bowl ban closer. As that nears, the quality of recruits could rise since future teams will be eligible to play in bowl games.
Unlike their counterparts of future classes, freshman entering Penn State next season will have to wait until their senior year to be eligible for a bowl game.
With several players graduating after the current season and others being tempted by fresh starts in new places, the 2013 Penn State football season is shaping up to be very difficult.
Both the offensive and defensive lines will be hit hard by graduation. The quarterback position could be a battle between a true freshman (Hackenberg) and a sophomore, Steven Bench, who has seen little game action this season.
The fact is that the next several years are going to be challenging and difficult for the Nittany Lions. Each year will present new adversities that Bill O'Brien and his coaching staff will have to face.
Regardless, the future players at Penn State will be tasked with restoring pride and honor to a now scarred program.
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