As Bill O’Brien’s offseason hits full swing in these winter months, recruiting is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of pulling Penn State out of the mess it’s in.
With Jeremy Ferguson being the most recent recruit pulled in by O’Brien, the Lions still have a long road ahead for next year and a lot of holes to fill.
After graduating 30 seniors from one of the most surprising and brave Penn State teams in years, O’Brien still has his work cut out for him.
Five starters on offense and seven key defensive players were seniors this past season, including Gerald Hodges and Matt McGloin.
So with the New Year only weeks away what exactly are the positions that O’Brien and his team will have to fill?
This season Matt Stankiewitch anchored the Nittany Lion offensive line that was relatively young and inconsistent at times.
Stankiewitch, a top lineman at Penn State for the past two years and most experienced of the group, made a solid center.
Behind Stankiewitch this year was Ty Howle, a durable senior who backed up both the center and guard positions.
That leaves current junior Frank Figueroa and freshman Wendy Laurant to fight for the starting job.
Stephon Morris was one of the unsung heroes of Penn State’s defense this year.
Behind the spotlight of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, Morris helped to hold a thin secondary together as the only returning starter.
As the team’s fifth leading tackler, Morris was a physical corner and provided solid run support on the edges.
Current freshman Da’Quan Davis should be stepping in for Morris next season.
Davis is talented and during limited playing time has shown his abilities with six pass break-ups and deflections.
At only 161 pounds, Davis might not be as big and physical as Morris or Adrian Amos, but the cornerback position is a role that Davis will have to step into.
During his last game at Beaver Stadium against Wisconsin, defensive lineman Jordan Hill put his talents on display and seemed to take over the game.
On an injured knee Hill was able to record 12 tackles, many of which came in the second half and in overtime.
But Hill is another graduating senior, leaving Penn State with a gap in the middle of their defense.
Current junior DaQuan Jones showed that he could hold his own this season on the line, but the Lions will need another defensive tackle to step up to try to replace Hill and the 64 tackles he recorded this season.
Although Kyle Baublitz was listed behind Hill on the Penn State depth chart, current freshman Anthony Zettel should be getting a chance to step into a starting role.
Zettel only recorded 15 tackles this season, but still had four sacks and four pass break ups and deflections.
Hill was an athletic leader on the Nittany Lions defensive line and he will be missed.
But Zettel should have an opportunity to step into this hole left by Hill, and the freshman has the talent to fill the void.
The progress O’Brien made with turning Matt McGloin into one of the B1G’s best passers was truly amazing.
McGloin broke numerous passing records at Penn State, and was a leader on an offense with numerous young contributors.
Although Christian Hackenberg is committed to come to Happy Valley as is Tyler Ferguson, the fact still remains that Steven Bench is the only quarterback currently at Penn State.
McGloin was a big part of O’Brien’s offense and used his brain just as much or more than his arm.
This means that the position McGloin is leaving isn’t just from the statistics and on the field success, but also that McGloin set the precedent for running O’Brien’s intricate offense.
With Penn State's three quarterbacks coming into 2013 with a combined eight passing attempts in Division I football, the quarterback role will be tough to fill.
This past season, Michael Mauti was undoubtedly the heart and soul of the Penn State football program.
He led both on and off the field before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him for the final two games.
Both Mauti and Gerald Hodges accounted for 204 tackles and five interceptions.
Mauti and Hodges embodied the “Linebacker U” nickname at Penn State by making huge impacts on each game.
Next year it will be up to Glenn Carson and Mike Hull to provide the production that Mauti and Hodges put up this season.
At the third linebacker position, it will be a competition for the starting job.
Current freshman Ben Kline was listed as the backup at both outside linebacker spots, but freshman Nyeem Wartman and incoming freshman Brandon Bell should both have an opportunity to play as well.
Wartman showed his talents early in the season, blocking a punt in Penn State’s first game against Ohio.
But Wartman was sidelined with an injury for most of the season.
Mauti and Hodges are leaving a big gap in the depth chart for next season, and it will be tough to repeat their production next year.