Penn State Football: 5 2012 Backups Who Will Make a Big Impact in 2013
Everyone knows the kind of expectations the majority of America had for Penn State football this past season and, of course, how the team responded.
With the guidance of head coach Bill O'Brien and a memorable senior class, the Nittany Lions defied the odds and went a surprising 8-4, winning eight of their last 10 games.
The ending to the 2012 season was remarkable considering the handicaps for Penn State, but the 2013 season will be more difficult than this past one on the field.
Not only does the team lose the leadership of that senior class, but also stability and skill on the gridiron.
Whether it's the developed quarterback Matthew McGloin or the heroics of Michael Mauti, the Lions will be filling quite a few gaps once spring practice gets underway.
With that being said, there will be a handful of backups last season who will make an impact in 2013, either getting starts or seeing rotation time.
1. Mike Hull, Linebacker
In 2012, linebacker Mike Hull was essentially a fourth starter as he worked his way into a rotation with starters Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson.
With the moving on of Mauti and Hodges, Hull will be expected to step up and provide leadership and consistency to the linebacking corps.
Granted Carson will already be in place as a former starter, but Hull–-as a redshirt junior next season-–will be expected to help tutor younger linebackers coming into the program, including recruit Zayd Issah.
Statistics wise, Hull held his own last season, tallying 58 tackles and 4 sacks. He also had a blocked punt against Ohio State in the Lions' "White Out" game.
Considering the losses of Mauti and Hodges, and the impact he had last season, Hull will be expected to not only start in 2013, but also develop into Penn State's next NFL product at linebacker.
2. Akeel Lynch, Runningback
Contrary to Hull, Penn State runningback Akeel Lynch picked up zero in-game experience last season.
Lynch---who redshirted as a freshman last season---probably won't start in 2013-14 considering the coming on of power runner and former fullback Zach Zwinak.
However, that doesn't mean the swift Canadian rusher won't make a huge impact for the Lions.
Despite not getting any looks in 2012-13, and considering transferring to Iowa after the sanctions broke, Lynch has a lot of potential and should compete in a crowded backfield for carries.
Not only do the Lions have Zwinak as a reliable starter, but also Bill Belton---who got touches last season---and incoming recruit Richy Anderson.
Regardless, the highlight reel above and what he showed in practice this season has a lot of people excited for his potential, and rightfully so.
3. C.J. Olaniyan, Defensive End
Going off of players leaving on the defensive side, the Lions have a void to fill at the defensive end position.
While Ted Roof will still have superstar youngster Deion Barnes to work with, the Lions' defensive front will be losing Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley on the edge to graduation.
So, who will step up?
Even though Anthony Zettel is a guy no one should sleep on, my pick to replace those two as a starter alongside Barnes is C.J. Olaniyan.
Olaniyan---who will be a junior next season---didn't record statistics in four of the Lions games he played in 2012-13, but his proven athleticism is something to watch out for.
The 6'3'' defensive end---who also played tight end in high school---showed spurts of freakish talent this past season and should give coach Larry Johnson, Sr. some tools to work with.
4. Eugene Lewis, Wide Reciever
Back in the third week of September, Penn State wide receivers coach Stan Hixon pointed out the best athlete the Lions had at the wide receiver position.
And while his mind might have changed by season's end, it wasn't Allen Robinson at the time.
Instead, Hixon said freshman wide receiver Eugene Lewis was "probably the best athlete we have" at the position.
If you want more hype surrounding Lewis, his playmaking ability down the field reminded Rivals.com of Buffalo Bills star receiver Stevie Johnson.
That's high praise for a kid who hasn't played a collegiate snap.
Despite that athleticism, Lewis was redshirted last season and wasn't able to showcase his ability in real-time action.
However, after a season to develop with Hixon and all the attention going to Robinson in 2013-14, Lewis is without a doubt poised to have a breakout season.
5. Steven Bench, Quarterback
At this point in time, the quarterback position is a massive unknown for Penn State.
Who will start in 2013-14? Will it be incoming blue-chip recruit Christian Hackenberg? Will the answer come via the JUCO ranks with Tyler Ferguson? Or will it be last year's backup Steven Bench that assumes the role as starter?
Regardless of who starts, Bench will most definitely have an impact on the 2013, whether or not he sees the field.
With Hackenberg not enrolling until June, Bench will have the chance to emerge as a capable starter in spring practice.
This not only would allow Hackenberg to redshirt, but also would give Bench the opportunity to show consistency in his skills-–the same skills he gave fans a glimpse of when he filled in during the Virginia game.
On the other hand, if Bench isn't able to stand out and prove he's a starter for the Lions, Bill O'Brien will go with either Ferguson or Hackenberg at quarterback for the foreseeable future.
Regardless, Bench is going to make an impact on this team's future even if he fails to grab the starting job.