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Penn State Football: 10 Burning Questions for 2016

As Penn State prepares for the Blue-White Game, what are some of the biggest questions facing the program heading into year three of the James Franklin era?

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Will we finally see improvement from the offensive line?

After two utterly disastrous seasons, the answer remains "Who knows??"  However, there is reason for hope. For one, the OL finally has some depth to work with, with four of the starters returning from 2015 to go along with several talented underclassmen moving up the ranks. There should also be some optimism now they will be under a more complex system under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and OL coach Matt Limegrover. After sinking all hopes for a productive offense for two consecutive seasons, it will remain the biggest question mark until we see some long overdue progress from this unit.

Who will replace Christian Hackenberg as the next leader of Penn State's offense?

While true freshman Jake Zembiec is participating in spring ball as an early enrollee, it seems to be a two-man race between redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley and redshirt freshman Tommy Stevens. McSorley has more experience, most notably for playing in the final three quarters of the Taxslayer Bowl against Georgia where he came close leading the team back from a 24-3 deficit. James Franklin has stated he would like to settle on a quarterback early if possible, but the competition could continue until close to the start of the 2016 season.

Can new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead bring immediate life to Penn State's offense?

Moorhead helped Fordham's offense take a major and completely improbable leap in his first year as head coach of the Rams, and never looked back as he led one of the best offenses in FCS. He'll need to take a major step up by entering the Big Ten, but he has displayed a brilliant mind for the game and should be a huge upgrade over former OC John Donovan. We do know that Moorhead likes to spread the ball around and find innovative ways to get the most of the talent at his disposal- and considering the immense speed and talent throughout the wide receiver and running back units, Moorhead could bring an exciting and productive offense that Nittany Lions fans have been aching for.

Can Saquon Barkley emerge as one of the best running backs in the nation?

Definitely. It immediately became apparent that Barkley was a special talent as a true freshman. While he showed a world of potential, it was also apparent he needed to fully develop into his body before he could take his place among the nation's elite. Well, it's fair to say his development has come to fruition this offseason. Not only did he break Anthony Zettel's program record with a 390 lb. power clean, he also ran the fastest 40-yard dash on the team. Yikes. Additionally, Barkley should greatly benefit under a new offensive scheme that doesn't over-rely on him to the point where he begins physically breaking down, and will also be able to receive a much needed breather from time to time as Miles Sanders and Andre Robinson both seem ready to contribute in 2016.

Will any true freshmen make an immediate impact?

Running back Miles Sanders will likely see the field immediately to help share the load with Barkley and Andre Robinson. Simply put, Sanders has the look of a very special running back who will be tearing through Big Ten defenses for the next several seasons. Connor McGovern and Michal Menet could provide an upgrade for Penn State's oft-maligned interior line at some point early in 2016. Alex Barbir could find himself as the starting kicker from day one and punter Blake Gillikin will almost assuredly be at the top of the depth chart as soon as he steps foot on campus after two disastrous seasons of splitting time between Daniel Pasquariello and Chris Gulla.

Can Marcus Allen bounce back from his sophomore slump?

Allen was thrust into the starting lineup during the middle of his true freshman season, and immediately opened eyes. He looked like a future All-American and first round draft pick as he played well beyond his years. But his sophomore year seemed to have him going in the opposite direction as he often found himself out of position on coverage as well as regularly missing tackles. Allen will now be under the guidance of former Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks, who will no doubt spend a tremendous amount of effort to help Allen reach his full potential. If that happens, Allen could easily develop into one of the best safeties in the Big Ten by the end of 2016.

Who will fill the enormous void along the defensive line?

No one should relish the prospect of replacing Austin Johnson, Anthony Zettel and Carl Nassib, each who will be pulling down big paychecks in the NFL next season. While Penn State will go through some inevitable growing pains in the trenches in 2016, there's plenty of reasons for optimism. For one, Torrence Brown looks to be a terror coming off the edge moving forward. Parker Cothren has been serviceable during the past two years and could take a major step forward as a full-time starter. Redshirt freshman Kevin Givens has earned rave reviews from the staff during spring ball and could make a major impact in the fall. Curtis Cothran showed flashes as a reserve in 2015 and will now take on a larger role as a versatile lineman likely to play throughout the line. JUCO transfer Tyrell Chavis is a behemoth who could be a major player at DT during the next two seasons. While some dropoff should be expected, defensive line coach Sean Spencer should have the new batch of Wild Dogs ready to attack again in no time.

Who will be the starting MIKE (middle) linebacker?

This should be the most fun position battle as heavyweights Nyeem Wartman-White and Jason Cabinda compete to be the quarterback of the defense. Wartman-White was entrenched as the starter in the middle until a knee injury ended his season almost immediately as it started in week one. Cabinda would then slide over and lead the team in tackles in 2015. The defense will be in good shape however things shake out- both have experience in the middle and at OLB and will excel wherever they ultimately line up in the fall. Pair them with OLB Brandon Bell, and the Linebacker U. moniker will remain strong in 2016.

Will Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles emerge among a crowded unit of wide receivers?

Let's hope so. The pair of redshirt freshman are both freakish athletes with excellent size (Johnson stands at 6-4, 221 lbs. while Charles checks in at 6-4, 224 lbs.) who can easily create match-up problems- especially when sharing the field with the likes of Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, and emerging speedsters Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins. If Penn State can shore up the line and get the new starting quarterback comfortable in the pocket, Johnson and Charles can help create a vertical passing game that would be unlike anything seen previously for a Penn State offense.

Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

No, and he shouldn't be at this point considering the inexperience and lack of depth he encountered during his first two seasons while the program gradually recovers from the now-defunct NCAA sanctions. Franklin also seems to have the full backing of the Athletic Department, which goes quite a long ways at a program like Penn State. But that has the potential to change this year with another underwhelming season, especially if it involves a loss to in-state foes Pitt and/or Temple. The most severe argument one can make against Franklin's prospects at this point is that there has been no progress from week one to week 13 during his first two years, and one can argue the team even regressed throughout the course of the season. Franklin will need to have this team showing obvious improvement by the time November rolls around to prove he's the long-term answer as head coach for the program.