As the New Year rolls around, a new set of challenges will be faced by Bill O’Brien and the Penn State football team.
Along with bringing in new recruits on a reduced scholarship allowance, O’Brien will have to find a way to replace several top players that will be graduating.
The absence of mainstays such as Jordan Hill and Gerald Hodges will leave several holes in Penn State's defense.
Here are the four weakest positions heading into next season.
The fullback position wasn’t heavily used in O'Brien's defense, as senior Michael Zordich saw more action at running back.
Nevertheless, Zordich’s departure will leave a spot open that has been occupied by him and Joe Suhey for several years.
Pat Zerbe will most likely be stepping into the starting role next season after being the backup to Zordich this year.
The redshirt junior hasn’t seen much action in his time in Happy Valley and missed all of 2011 with a torn ACL.
Fullback will not be a key position for Penn State next year, but that doesn’t mean the Lions still aren’t weak at the position.
Zerbe hasn’t seen very much playing time on the collegiate level yet, leaving Penn State with a very inexperienced option in the backfield.
After the year that both Hodges and Michael Mauti had this season, the fact that they are leaving may cause some to think that linebacker will be Penn State’s weakest position next season.
But it is not the Lions’ biggest weak spot.
It’s no secret that Penn State will be missing the 204 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five interceptions and five forced fumbles that Hodges and Mauti produced.
But replacing them might be easier than it seems.
Glenn Carson, the team’s third leading tackler, will be returning at inside linebacker, and Mike Hull, the team’s sixth leading tackler, will be stepping up into a spot at outside linebacker.
Both players are experienced, athletic linebackers. The big question will be who fills the third linebacker spot.
O’Brien will have a number of talented young players to pick from, but Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman are both players that have a good shot at starting.
Kline and Wartman will be sophomores next season, and both only had limited action at linebacker in 2012.
Although Carson and Hull should make the transition away from Hodges and Mauti easier for Penn State, the loss of these two dynamic players will hurt the Nittany Lion defense.
The Lions will be losing three key players on their defensive line after this season.
Along with Hill, defensive ends Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro will also be graduating from Happy Valley and leaving Penn State with only two returning starters on the defensive line.
Although Deion Barnes had a breakout freshman season, fellow returner DaQuan Jones had the fewest tackles of the four starters on the defensive line.
Jones and Barnes will be depended on heavily next year, and Anthony Zettel and C.J. Olaniyan will have opportunities to start.
Barnes should be able to continue his solid play, but Hill’s absence will be leaving Penn State vulnerable in the interior.
The Lions have young talent with opportunities to get playing time, but these youngsters aren’t proven yet and the loss of three key contributors leaves them weak on the defensive line.
With Matt McGloin graduating after the 2012 season, Steven Bench was the lone quarterback on scholarship in Happy Valley.
Then JUCO quarterback Tyler Ferguson committed to Penn State in December, leaving the Lions with two scholarship quarterbacks for spring practice.
Last but not least, top prospect Christian Hackenberg is set to sign with Penn State in February, leaving O’Brien with three options at quarterback heading into 2013.
The only problem with all of this is that all three of them have combined for 12 yards passing on two completions and 18 yards rushing on the Division I level (all by Bench).
This leaves Penn State young and inexperienced in an offense that depends heavily on the brain of its quarterback.
The quarterback spot is by far the weakest position for the Lions heading into 2013 not because of a lack of talent, but rather due to inexperience and untested abilities.
Hackenberg and Ferguson are obviously gifted, and Bench showed in his brief playing time that he has potential as well.
But looking at the immediate future, it will be a growing process for the quarterbacks in Happy Valley.
Although the future can be bright for all three of these quarterbacks, the Lions will undoubtedly experience growing pains at this spot next year.