The Penn State Nittany Lions have their new head man in James Franklin and expectations will be high in Happy Valley.
However, as the storied program begins the next step of its revival in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, PSU faithful have to understand that Big Ten titles aren't just going to come rolling in—even though Franklin could be just the person to make it happen.
But while sanctions still have the Nittany Lions limited, the steady improvement could continue with the 2014 season.
How will Penn State finish in 2014?
The centerpiece, star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, is already there for Franklin and his new staff.
As a freshman, Hackenberg was anointed as PSU's future and he delivered. The former blue-chip recruit was named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year, throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
While those numbers aren't overwhelming, they're very good considering he was thrown into the fire immediately in his career.
They also look even better while considering the strength of the Penn State rushing attack. The Nittany Lions boast three talented running backs who will all be back next season.
The powerful Zach Zwinak led the way with 989 yards and 12 touchdowns, while Bill Belton followed with 803 rushing yards and five scores. Change-of-pace speedster Akeel Lynch added 358 yards and a touchdown to a PSU attack that averaged 174 yards per game.
The addition of James Franklin at #PennState will certainly make the Big Ten more interesting, and that is a very good thing for CFB.— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 14, 2014
This talented trio teamed up with Hackenberg to finish No. 4 in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 433.2 yards per contest.
Next year, they should fit perfectly into Franklin's system. Rather than trying to plug players into one set style, Franklin believes in a multiple, pro-style attack that plays to the strengths of its players, which he told the media during his introductory press conference:
We'll be pro style, multiple pro style offense, defense, and we'll be aggressive in everything we do. When we get off the bus, we'll be aggressive. The way we call the game, we'll be aggressive. I think that's very, very important. I think the fans want to see an exciting style of defense. I think the fans want to see an exciting style of offense and special teams.
We'll take calculated risks. We're going to have fun. It always helps to have a quarterback. I don't care whether it's little league, high school, college or the NFL. If you have a quarterback, you've got a chance. We feel very, very good about the quarterback we have in our program right now.
In addition to having the right quarterback for the attack, PSU will also bring back several key defenders, including No. 2 tackler Mike Hull, top corner Jordan Lucas and sack leader C.J. Olaniyan.
The Nittany Lions don't necessarily have one star defender, but they have an overall talented group that will fit well into Franklin's aggressive philosophy.
This group will be taking on an overall navigable schedule. While PSU will have to travel to Michigan, it will host Ohio State and Michigan State, its two toughest opponents. The Nittany Lions won't have to play several other Big Ten contenders, including Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa.
|Aug. 30||Central Florida||Dublin, Ireland|
|Sept. 6||Akron||University Park, Pa.|
|Sept. 13||Rutgers||Piscataway, N.J.|
|Sept. 20||Massachusetts||University Park, Pa.|
|Sept. 27||Northwestern||University Park, Pa.|
|Oct. 11||Michigan||Ann Arbor, Mich.|
|Oct. 25||Ohio State||University Park, Pa.|
|Nov. 1||Maryland||University Park, Pa.|
|Nov. 8||Indiana||Bloomington, Ind.|
|Nov. 15||Temple||University Park, Pa.|
|Nov. 22||Illinois||Champaign, Ill.|
|Nov. 29||Michigan State||University Park, Pa.|
After looking at their 2014 slate, the only major cause for concern is the departure of receiver Allen Robinson, a Biletnikoff Award finalist who represented nearly half of the team's production at receiver a year ago. Robinson amassed 1,432 yards while no other receiver even touched 400.
However, Franklin is one step ahead of the game.
PSU's 2014 class was heavy on playmakers. The No. 24 class in 247Sports.com's composite rankings, PSU brought in three 4-star receivers and a 4-star tight end.
The group is highlighted by early enrollee and Under Armour All-American De'Andre Thompkins. He'll soon be joined by Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin and tight end Mike Gesicki. Derek Levarse of The Times Leader opined that it might be the nation's most impressive class of receivers.
Franklin and Co. sure are calling in the reinforcements for Hackenberg. PSU may end up with the most impressive '14 WR class in the country.— Derek Levarse (@TLdlevarse) January 27, 2014
If just one or two of those four newcomers are able to find their stride early, the Penn State offense could be even better than it was a year ago.
The PSU team that fought its way to a 7-5 record last year seems to be in position for a bump up the ladder. The only question is how high it will climb.
The Nittany Lions will open with Central Florida, which will be an easier out now that quarterback Blake Bortles is off to the NFL. That game will set the tone for the season, but from top to bottom, a 10-win campaign isn't out of the question.
If PSU can find the consistency it lacked last year, it's a definite possibility. And if Franklin can take his new club close to that mark, it should set him up for continued success on the recruiting trail.
Franklin was a quick success in Nashville, and if he can install the same blueprint in Happy Valley, those Big Ten titles are coming.