The Penn State Nittany Lions head into the 2013 season riding the confidence of a successful 8-4 campaign last year. While several key components of the team will be gone, there is a core of returning players that will be key in determining how much success the Nittany Lions will have during the upcoming season.
In the midst of all the adversity that fell on the school last year, many players reaffirmed their commitment to the team and decided to not take the out that was given to them by the NCAA.
Midway through the season, six underclassmen—who were all starters—announced that they were staying true to Penn State and would not be transferring at the end of the year.
While the entire team, especially all returning players from last season, will be important for the upcoming season, this particular group will play a key role.
The group, dubbed the "Supa Six," includes tight end Kyle Carter, running back Bill Belton, cornerback Adrian Amos, defensive end Deion Barnes, offensive tackle Donovan Smith and wide receiver Allen Robinson.
All six players will be expected to contribute in one way or another next season.
The defensive side of the ball will have major holes to fill. Perhaps the biggest will be that of its defensive leader, linebacker Michael Mauti.
Penn State will look to Adrian Amos, who should enter the year as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten, as one of the new leaders on defense. Last season, he made 44 tackles and had two interceptions.
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes will be called upon to lead a defensive line that will miss the veteran leadership of guys like Jordan Hill and Sean Stanley. Barnes started eight games in 2012 and made 26 total tackles. His six sacks led the team.
Offensively, the 2013 Nittany Lions will be returning several starters from last season. With the biggest change being at quarterback, the experienced players will need to step up.
Allen Robinson, the leading receiver in the Big Ten last season, will be a key target for whoever is taking the snaps for the Nittany Lions. He is a proven receiver who will need to have another strong campaign if Penn State hopes to continue its success.
Last season, the sophomore caught 77 passes for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Along with the breakout of Robinson, 2012 saw a true freshman make a major impact at tight end. Kyle Carter took full advantage of head coach Bill O'Brien's use of the tight end position on the passing game. Carter finished the year second on the team with 453 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
Carter, who missed three of the last four games with an injury, will be a big, reliable target and a crucial part of the passing attack next season.
Another member of the group, Bill Belton, had the least success of the six last season, but he'll look to rebound in 2013. He entered the year as the main weapon out of the backfield for the Nittany Lions. However, injuries derailed the start to his season and he was unable to ever really get going.
He finished with just 263 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
The emergence of Zach Zwinak at running back last year means that Belton will need to earn his playing time moving forward. His speed and receiving skills out of the backfield make him too valuable of a commodity to leave on the bench.
Look for Belton to bounce back in 2013 and contribute on both offense and in the return game.
Anyone who follows football knows that a successful offense begins with a solid offensive line. Donovan Smith, a redshirt freshman last season, started the final seven games of 2012 at left tackle. His 6'5", 316-pound frame helps to ensure that the left side of the line provides protection for the quarterback.
Smith will likely be the least talked-about member of the group, but his importance can not be overlooked. The fact that Penn State will be playing with a new starting quarterback makes having a solid group up front even more important
As Penn State prepares for the upcoming season, there are many factors that will go into making it a successful one.
The performance of all the members of the "Supa Six" will play a huge role in determining how far the Nittany Lions go in the years ahead.