Penn State Football: 4 Realistic Expectations for 2013
Heading into the 2013 season, the expectations for the Penn State Nittany Lions will be about as unknown as they were this past season. Nobody really knew what to expect in the midst of all that went on in State College. It will be much of the same for the upcoming season.
Current players are still able to transfer until August 2013 and recruits could still change their minds as National Signing Day doesn't occur until February.
However, even with all of the unknown variables still floating around at Penn State, it's still possible to think about some realistic expectations for the 2013 team.
If no starters transfer, and none have hinted that they will, then the Nittany Lions will be returning some key weapons, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Tight ends Jesse James, Matt Lehman and Kyle Carter all bring skill and experience to the position. Running backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak will also look to contribute to the offense.
Perhaps the biggest returning weapon will be the Big Ten's receiver of year, Allen Robinson.
Though many starters should be returning, a new man will be running the offense at quarterback. With top recruit Christian Hackenberg now likely being given a redshirt, 2012 backup Steven Bench and recently signed junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson will be in a battle to start the season.
Though it's very early, let's take a look at what Penn State fans can expect in 2013.
Zach Zwinak Will Rush for 1,000 Yards
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
To start the 2012 season, sophomore Zach Zwinak was a backup running back who was buried behind several players on the depth chart. However, just a few games into the season, he was called upon and took full advantage of his opportunity.
The Week four game against Temple saw him carry the ball 18 times for 94 yards. The following week against Illinois, he rushed for 100 yards and two touchdowns. It was those two games that showed head coach Bill O'Brien that Zwinak was more than capable of carrying the load as the Nittany Lions starting running back.
Though he only started four games, Zwinak carried the ball 203 times for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.
While the backfield could be crowded again in 2013 with a healthy Bill Belton and redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch, Zwinak should have the upper hand on the starting job. With an entire offseason to grow and improve, he will likely receive more than four starts.
With a question mark at the quarterback position, the Nittany Lions will look to establish the running game early and often in 2013 in order to take pressure off of the passing game.
That sets up Zwinak for an excellent opportunity to amass over 1,000 yards for the second straight season.
Bill O'Brien Will Reamin Head Coach
Rob Carr/Getty Images
This one may seem obvious, but O'Brien's future at Penn State has been debated. With several expected openings in the NFL, O'Brien's name will certainly come up among front office personnel.
However, his agent recently stated that the coach is staying at Penn State.
O'Brien took over at Penn State in January of 2012, just months after the firing of coach Joe Paterno. As if the situation wasn't tough enough, the NCAA levied harsh sanctions against the team in July that included the ability of current team members to transfer without penalty.
Though several key players left the team just weeks before the start of the 2012 season, O'Brien never panicked. Instead, he found replacements who performed admirably and led the Nittany Lions to an impressive 8-4 record.
Penn State fans can expect to see their fearless leader once again roaming the sidelines next fall.
The Nittany Lions Will Finish with at Least 6 Wins
Matthew Holst/Getty Images
While the 2012 version of the NIttany Lions impressed everyone with an 8-4 record, 2013 could be different. With the graduation of leaders like Matt McGloin, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, the Nittany Lions will have to rely on some younger players who don't have a lot of experience.
Looking at the schedule, six wins seems like a realistic number. The first part of the schedule includes games against Eastern Michigan, Syracuse, Virginia and Indiana, all games that Penn State should be able to win.
When the Big Ten part of the schedule hits, the Nittany Lions will be traveling to both Ohio State and Wisconsin, which are traditionally tough places to play. Penn State also gets homes games Michigan, Illinois and Purdue.
The schedule also includes a home games against Kent State and Nebraska as well as a game at Minnesota.
The 2013 team will be decent. Key play-makers return on offense and the defensive line looks to be solid. However, the prospect of a starting quarterback with little experience at the collegiate level means that bumps along the road are likely.
An eight win season in 2013 seems like a lofty goal. Six or seven wins is more realistic for the Nittany Lions.
Deion Barnes Will Be Named to the All-Big Ten Team
Eric Francis/Getty Images
One of the biggest surprises for the Nittany Lions in 2012 was defensive end Deion Barnes. The freshman saw action in every game and made eight starts. He finished the year with 26 tackles and led the team with six sacks.
Barnes was rewarded for his play by being named the Big Ten Conference's Freshman of the Year.
Standing at 6'4" and weighing 246 pounds, he has the perfect combination of size and speed to be effective on the defensive line. He's already shown the ability and instincts to get to the quarterback and disrupt the timing of an offense.
With the graduation of both Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley, Barnes will be called upon to be a defensive leader up front for the Nittany Lions. He has already shown the ability to be a top-tier defensive player at the collegiate level and bigger things are in store for him in 2013.