Now that Volcano Bárõarbunga seems to have calmed down a bit, things are looking up for the Nittany Lions and the Knights to engage in their Irish showdown this Saturday at 8:30AM. Last week, the staff here at Black Shoe Diaries submitted our season predictions. As a result, most of the commenters seemed to think we weren't as high on the team as we should be. The highest predicted record was 8-4 (from Matt, Cari, Tim A, and myself). However, as we enter into this 2014 season, there is a lot more to think about than just the record. Not only is this season yet another transition year coaching-wise, but is it is also year three of the sanctions that have ravaged the Penn State depth chart. That leaves this writer to question what really defines a successful 2014 season for James Franklin and the Nittany Lions.
Personally, I think achieving the 8-4 record that I predicted would be a noteworthy accomplishment. Yes, the schedule is laid out quite nicely (yet not as nice as the cakewalk Iowa will be strutting down), and yes, James Franklin seems primed to get the absolute most of out of the players under his leadership. But this is still a team with serious depth issues. With as much praise as has been heaped on freshmen linebackers Troy Reeder and Jason Cabinda, the coaching staff surely doesn't want them to have to see extended regular time in starting roles just yet. The wide receivers are oozing with talent, but right now it's more potential than skill. And then there's the offensive line. Should any injuries arise within the starting five, it's possible there could be three freshmen starters. So yeah, this season won't be easy.
In my mind, there are a few things that will dictate a successful season for Penn State. First off, seven wins should be enough to keep the players heads held high, keep all of the recruits on board, and keep the bright lights of Penn State's future blinding us as we look ahead.
Secondly, real player development needs to occur. With the amount of younger guys that will get meaningful snaps this season (Akeel Lynch, the Wide Receivers, Mike Gesicki, the Offensive Line, Brandon Bell, Troy Reeder, Jason Cabinda, Grant Haley, Koa Farmer, and plenty more), it is absolutely crucial that they make the most of their time this year and improve. While Michael O'Connor and the verbally committed Brandon Wimbush are both full of potential in their own rights, we simply may not see another quarterback as talented as Christian Hackenberg again at Penn State. If he continues to improve as his skill set indicates he will, next season could very well be his last in the blue and white. James Franklin and the staff surely know that, so making sure the team is ready to roll for 2015 is not a goal that should be ignored.
Finally, I think the fans will play a part in making this a successful year. Franklin has talked about how many people he wants in the stands for each game so much, that every other tweet in my timeline contains the hashtag #107kStrong. If the coaches and the team can get 98k+ into the stands for every game this season, it will be a victory in my eyes. Last season, that number was surpassed only twice (Michigan- 105,889 and Nebraska- 98,517). If they can convince more than 98,000 people to come see a Penn State-Temple game in November, then that might be the biggest accomplishment of all.
But hey, that's just me.
What do YOU think needs to happen this year to call it a successful season for Penn State?
"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success." -Henry Ford