Penn State Football: 200 Days Til Football And Five Questions That Will Be Answered
It may feel like it's far away, but Penn State football is "only" 200 days from kicking off the season in Ireland.
James Franklin's squad may have yet to take the field with spring practice still a month away, but that doesn't mean there aren't some burning questions already about Franklin's first season in Happy Valley. There are five major themes that will likely define the Nittany Lions' season.
1. Will Christian Hackenberg Get Better Or Worse?
A new QB coach, a new offense, no Allen Robinson and a lot of new, untested, targets to throw to. There could be worse things for Penn State than Hackenberg picking up where he left off. Quarterbacks rarely stay stagnant when it comes to developing. Not having Allen Robinson is a hurdle all its own -- sprinkle in a new offense and we could see a fair share of bumps in the road. Hackenberg is probably too good to regress, but how quickly he is able to pick up the offense and run with it? Hackenberg certainly won't be worse, but his general trajectory could change.
2. How Does The Defense Perform?
Fair or not, some fans were critical of John Butler's defense the one season he was at the defensive helm. In theory, the Nittany Lions are less talented on that side of the ball in 2014 than they were in 2013. Does Bob Shoop have the answer? How will younger players like Brandon Bell perform in the early going? Can Deion Barnes find his stride again? All of these questions are major stories in their own right, but in essence, the defense's performance as a whole under yet another defensive coordinator is a major question mark moving forward.
3. What is James Franklin's Role On Saturday's?
Franklin seems to be happy with letting John Donovan call the plays and seemingly isn't interested in getting his hands dirty on the defensive side of the ball. While many head coaches are less involved than O'Brien was on Saturday's, it'll be interesting to see how Franklin plays the sidelines and when and where he takes direct control over the game. Franklin will probably end up being somewhere between Paterno's figurehead status and O'Brien's role of having his hand in every aspect of the game.
4. What Does The Offense Look Like?
It's a pretty simple question, but one fans won't have an answer to until the team takes the field. It's a culmination of Hackenberg's development, the roles of Zwinak, Belton, and Lynch as well as the rising talent in Penn State's receiving corps. Franklin and Donovan were able to put together decent offenses in the SEC but things are much different in a more defense oriented Big Ten. There isn't any reason to think Penn State's offense won't be as effective as it was at times in 2013, but it's still a question mark.
5. Is Ficken Still Kicking?
Sam Ficken's ups and downs have been well documented, and Franklin brought in a few walk-on recruits (they're walk-ons again right?) at the kicker position. It's hard to imagine Franklin won't give Ficken the job out of the gate, but if Ficken struggles it's unknown if he'll have as long of a leash as O'Brien gave him. Not all of Ficken's misses were his fault, but the stat sheet doesn't care, and Franklin might not either.