1. Christian Hackenberg
Yes, he took an unsettling step backwards in 2014. But there's a reason why Christian Hackenberg is the number one overall pick on some 2016 mock NFL drafts- when given time in the pocket, there aren't many quarterbacks- college or NFL- who can make the kinds of passes Hackenberg is capable of.
For most of the 2014 season, Hackenberg was forced to keep his eyes on the numerous defenders sprinting his direction rather than looking for open receivers. This caused a major setback in his mechanics, and caused him to short-arm many passes, even when he did have time to follow through. With a more experienced and deeper offensive line in 2015, Hackenberg should look more like the version we witnessed against Central Florida and Boston College- basically, the only two contests where Hack wasn't running for his life each time he dropped back. In those two victories, Hackenberg was 66 of 97 for 825 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He'll have another year of experience under his belt to improve his understanding of the game as well as his decision-making, a stable set of coaches working with him, and a hopefully an improved line that will make his life easier by keeping him upright while keeping defenses honest with a productive running game. Oh yeah, and he will have PLENTY of talented pass-catchers at his disposal. Speaking of which...
2. A Deep and Talented Pool of Receivers
The Big Ten's leading receiver is back in DaeSean Hamilton. One of the conference's best big-play threats returns in Geno Lewis. The extremely gifted Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall enter their sophomore seasons after learning on the fly as true freshman. And James Franklin could not say enough nice things about DeAndre Thompkins, who will add an extra wrinkle to the offense with his off-the-charts athleticism and ability to open up the field.
Then there's the tight ends- we all know what Kyle Carter can do when he's healthy, especially after the pleasant reminder when he came up big during the Pinstripe Bowl after two mostly pedestrian seasons that followed a brilliant freshman campaign. Mike Gesicki is known for his freakish athletic ability and should be ready to carve out a much bigger role as a sophomore. Finally, there's Adam Breneman- the top tight end in his class who could end up being one of the best tight ends ever to put on a Penn State uniform.
Still not excited? Penn State will welcome three four-star receivers in 2015- including Juwan Johnson, who has the size and skill set to make waves as a true freshman.
3. Akeel Lynch in a Starring Role
During the last two seasons, I've been saying that Akeel Lynch has the potential to be the best all-purpose running back to suit up in a Penn State uniform in some time...granted he improve upon his pass-blocking. Lynch took a major step to improve his one area of weakness and established himself as Penn State's top running back during the last quarter of the 2014 season. With Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak working to find a spot in the NFL, the spotlight is finally centered squarely on Lynch.
Pass-blocking isn't the only area of improvement for Lynch- the Canadian-product was visibly stronger in 2014, further proving his ability to run between the tackles as well as bouncing it outside for a long gain. If the offensive line is able to open more holes this fall, Lynch will be running past and through many would-be tacklers in 2015.