Is this real life?
This was different.
A few of the Penn State coaches were making their way around the northeastern corner of the country on a “coaches caravan,” reaching out to alumni and fans to gain support and donations.
As a result, I found myself in a secluded room on the second floor of The City Club of Cleveland joined only by Jared Slanina of BlackShoeDiaries.com and Penn State head football coach Bill O'Brien. My first instinct was to run.
I thought, “I'm just a blogger. I don't want to waste his time.” Upon arrival, I had two questions that I wanted to ask if there was time. Two well-constructed questions that would help me to blend in with the “real” media.
Except they didn't show up.
Instead, O'Brien sat a few feet away from us and answered questions for 17 minutes, when the two of us finally ran out of requests for the new figurehead of Penn State.
In the coming months, I would have countless interactions with players and recruits, but it was that evening when I realized I had the chops to do this.
Not only am I grateful to O'Brien for spending that time talking to a couple of guys who were not a part of the mainstream media, but I owe him the confidence that I took with me into the Penn State media room following home games last fall.
Over the last couple years, I've spent time as the lead editor at VictoryBellRings.com, and I've covered recruiting for both PennLive.com and the Centre County Gazette. I was also fortunate enough to work on a 2013 preview e-magazine with some of the best journalists on the Penn State beat.
While many of you have probably come across my work at some point, now that I'm here at Bleacher Report, I'd like to re-introduce myself with a little question and answer session. Feel free to shoot me extra questions if you'd like. I enjoy socializing.
Best athlete or coach to interview
I know this won't sit well with some Penn State fans but, for me, it's Ted Roof.
I spent time asking him questions after games last year every chance I got. I'm fascinated by defensive strategy and I thoroughly enjoyed picking his brain about certain decisions and personnel packages he used. He was always open and honest with me, and I felt like he did a heck of a job with the roster he had in 2012.
When I approached him after the Wisconsin game, I asked about the five-man front he used for the first time all year. He smiled and replied, "You liked that, didn't you?"
Best team covered
While 8-4 doesn't scream "greatness," the 2012 Penn State football team was a great unit to cover.
From the time the sanctions were handed down, until Sam Ficken hit the game-winner against Wisconsin, the players on that team served as an inspiration to many, myself included.
Early losses against Ohio and Virginia looked like the foreshadowing of a season to forget but later served as a reminder to never give up. With their backs against the wall, this Nittany Lions team rallied around each other and closed the season in near fairy-tale fashion.
Most memorable game ever covered
The Wisconsin game wins this award, and it's really not close. It was Senior Day and the players wore 42 on their helmets as a tribute to Michael Mauti, who sat out with a torn ACL.
I was on the field for the last few minutes of regulation and the overtime, which saw Sam Ficken redeem himself in grand fashion. The eruption in Beaver Stadium when the game ended sounded like a crowd sending their team to a championship.
In most years, an 8-4 team beating a 7-5 team wouldn't get any credit for being epic, but the emotions shown by the players following that game showed that the number of wins was irrelevant.
That scene was a reminder that these players were young men trying to find their way, and they got caught up in something way bigger than themselves.
Will Christian Hackenberg keep the starting job all season?
Yes. At least, Penn State fans should hope so.
Bill O'Brien didn't take this decision lightly, and it would take a lot for him to pull his freshman project. In the coming weeks, I expect to see a little more of Tyler Ferguson. But injuries aside, Christian Hackenberg is the quarterback of the present and the future.
Who is most responsible for replacing Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges on defense?
The obvious answer is Mike Hull, who has replaced Mauti on the strong side.
However, as we saw in the first game, senior middle linebacker Glenn Carson has a chance to put his name among the list of greats to come through Linebacker U. Carson has now started 25 straight games and worked diligently to improve his pass coverage, which will allow him to become an every-down player.
His leadership on and off the field will be needed in the absence of guys like Mauti and Hodges.
What is Bill O'Brien's biggest concern in 2013?
Managing a freshman quarterback.
As we saw with Rob Bolden, there is more to grooming a young quarterback than conservative play-calling. BOB will need to do everything right to not only win games, but to bring Hackenberg along at the right pace. O'Brien and his blue-chip quarterback will be forever linked, and the head coach knows that needs to be a positive thing, for both of them.
Which running back will lead Penn State in rushing yards in 2013?
I think it has to be Zach Zwinak. For Hackenberg and this Penn State team to be successful, they'll need to establish a power running game. Who better to do that than the converted fullback with a 1,000-yard season already under his belt?
2013 Season Prediction for Penn State
There are going to be some growing pains this year as Hackenberg finds his groove. Luckily, the team was able to get out of New Jersey with a win over Syracuse and now has a few winnable games at home.
The Nittany Lions have a great shot at starting 5-0, but then the schedule gets exponentially more difficult. Can they pull an upset or two at home against Michigan or Nebraska? Can they find a way to win over Wisconsin on the last day of the season again? So much depends on the development of Hackenberg.
Final Prediction: 8-4
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