It was nice to get back to covering some football over the weekend. Waking up early on a Saturday tends to be something I despise, but knowing I am heading to a football stadium makes for a completely different take. On Saturday my travels led me to the familiar confines of Beaver Stadium for Penn State's annual Blue White Game. I entered the stadium not really knowing what to expect from the team but left feeling a little bit more comfortable with what this year's team may look like.
My basic premise is you can not take a spring game too seriously and it most certainly will not serve as a forecast for how the fall will play out, but it is fair to point out any positive and negative notes jotted down during the game. For the most part I found myself writing down some positive comments in my notebook, and it seems as though that was the case for many around me in the press box.
The stars of the game, for me, were the running backs. We did not see Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak left the game very early with a possible hand injury, so that meant plenty of chances to lay eyes on Akeel Lynch, who was impressive and confident. Wearing the number 22, Lynch had some good, solid runs on his way to 83 yards and a touchdown. When Lynch was not getting the hand off we got a chance to watch Deron Thompson make a name for himself. Thompson rushed for 97 yards, highlighted by a 41-yard run after finding a hole and open space along the right side of the field. If nothing else, the running back depth seems to be in somewhat good shape for 2013. I believe Lynch could very well be a regular contributor on offense with Zwinak teaming up with him in the back-field. I look forward to seeing how Belton gets back in the offense as well, and I suspect he will have an opportunity to spread around the field. If healthy, he can bring some good versatility to the offense under Bill O'Brien.
Of course the offense faces a big question regarding the quarterbacks situation. As expected though, this is a question that will not be answered until later in the summer. I expanded on that topic a little bit already here and here. In brief, this is a three-man race between Steven Bench, Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg. O'Brien said that he wants to run the offense with one quarterback, which would be good. My best guess right now is that Bench will be the team's starting quarterback for week one against Syracuse. After that, we'll go from there.
I think the defense is going to be OK. I'm not sure they will have the physicality or depth to keep Penn State among the top of the Big Ten, but this defense should be good enough to win most games or at least keep some games within reach for the offense. I believe Glenn Carson has the mentality to take on more of a leadership role, which he seems to be embracing, and I think players like Nyeem Wartman and Deion Barnes are going to be fun to watch this season. I also came away impressed by the play of Brad Bars and Evan Schwan.
What it all comes down to is how O'Brien and his staff handle the roster. We are all aware that scholarship restrictions will hamper what the staff can do, but O'Brien sure seems to be handling it as well as imaginable. Despite some early perceptions, it sounds as though O'Brien was running a more physical spring than was being reported, but he's smart enough to know that he has to watch some players closer than others. Once the season gets closer he will take that in to consideration. The spring game saw some of the more recognizable names stay off the field. Belton did not play. Neither did freshman tight end Adam Breneman. Keeping some of the key players on the team as healthy as possible will be key.
Now that the spring is over, how do you feel about this team as we start to prepare for the 2013 season? Last week I told Athlon Sports Penn State will win seven games, with a shot at eight games. For now I stand by that prediction. Yesterday I ranked Penn State's schedule from weakest to toughest opponents.