As the latest news continues to flow in about which recruits Penn State and Bill O’Brien are getting to commit, we must not forget the players currently in Happy Valley.
More specifically, remember those underclassmen that have chosen to stay with the Nittany Lions despite the harsh sanctions that have been placed on the football program.
These kids are looking past the dark history and into the new and exciting future that O’Brien has been able to create as head coach.
This incoming class of players is full of talent, and there are many sophomores that are on the edge of becoming top contributors on the team.
But with the graduation of many talented seniors, some in key positions, it will be important for O’Brien’s group of rising underclassmen to rise to challenge.
Let’s take a look at the three underclassmen that will need to have the biggest year among the group of youngsters.
Penn State is in dire need of a quarterback that can step in and follow the path that Matt McGloin began forging last season.
With the departure of Steven Bench and the quarterback competition basically between Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, it’s continuing to look like Hackenberg will need to be the man.
He has already shown maturity and poise by sticking to his commitment to Penn State, and he has the tools to be a wonderful quarterback in O’Brien’s offense.
Hackenberg will need to have a huge year if Penn State wants to be successful.
The Lions have a solid running game set up with Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton, but O’Brien’s style of play needs some consistency through the air.
If Hackenberg can ride out some of the bumps and kinks that all true freshman quarterbacks encounter, he can lead this team to a big year.
Of the linebackers in Penn State’s defense, Nyeem Wartman is by far the wild card.
He has shown flashes of great athleticism both last season and in the Blue and White game, but he hasn't played in many games after struggling to stay healthy.
Wartman is coming in as a redshirt freshman and will be filling the spot left by outside linebacker Gerald Hodges.
The young linebacker is capable of doing that, and from what he has shown in brief appearances, Wartman can be very good this year as a freshman.
He needs to stay healthy though if he wants to make an impact on the defense.
Wartman is definitely athletic enough to step into a starting linebacker role, and Penn State will need him to consistently play at a high level.
After losing both outside linebackers and numerous seniors on the defensive line, Wartman’s play will need to be superb this year.
After what was a breakout freshman season for Deion Barnes, he will need to follow it up with the often-elusive strong sophomore year.
Many players that find success as freshmen experience a sophomore slump, where teams that may have overlooked him as a freshman will now focus on him.
Barnes cannot let this happen.
He will be a major part of a defensive line that is replacing major pieces at both defensive tackle and defensive end.
Barnes will be seeing much more attention and double-teams, while new inexperienced players fill in the new depth chart spots.
The sophomore has the makings to be the next defensive star in Happy Valley, and that Nittany Lion defense will need him to start fitting into that mold.
Without yet having one single dominant player inside the tackle box on this Penn State defense, Barnes will need to step up quickly.
If he doesn’t, there may be huge holes opening up on Penn State’s defensive line.