It's no secret that Penn State's offense has been hopelessly ineffective (and that's putting it mildly) during the past two seasons. As the weeks of each season wore on, it became painfully obvious that the Nittany Lion defense would mainly do their part, only to find their efforts would eventually become fruitless because of a lethargic offense that simply couldn't muster the productivity to claim a victory. At times, watching the offense was like sitting through the first act of a horror movie- you know something truly awful is about to happen, but you're unsure what exactly is about to happen and how much trauma will be dished out.
Well, hopefully it's time to leave all that in the past. Penn State has mostly recovered from the sanctions, and there's reason to believe the 2016 offense can turn the page with more experience and plenty of rising talent making its way on the field. Here are the top three reasons to be optimistic about the Penn State offense in 2016:
Saquon and his Band of Horses
Saquon Barkley is set to enter his true sophomore year as a preseason All-American candidate well worth the hype. It took him little time to prove that he has extraordinary vision and quickness that allows him to avoid would-be tacklers like Bo Jackson in Super Tecmo Bowl. He will not only enter the upcoming season with valuable experience under his belt, but also added strength and quickness that could see blossom as one of the premiere players in the nation.
But it's not just about Barkley- Penn State has quickly developed a stable of backs who will be vying for carries behind the sophomore. Let's start with Mark Allen, a short but powerful back in the mold of Dave Meggett and Maurice Jones-Drew. He's already proven to have some playmaking ability, and showed tremendous progress during April's Blue-White Game. He can easily become a playmaker in Joe Moorhead's new offense, especially as a dangerous third-down back. Andre Robinson also showed great promise in the spring, and should see ample playing time as a redshirt freshman. Robinson is a former four-star prospect and was ranked as the third-best player from Pennsylvania in his class, and has the potential to become a remarkable all-purpose running back. Speaking of potential, incoming freshman Miles Sanders enters the program as the top running back in his class, and one of the very best overall players in the nation. He is expected to contribute immediately. That's all without mentioning redshirt sophomore Johnathan Thomas, a powerful runner who should develop into a major asset in short-yardage situation. Thomas is an extremely physical back in the mold of Tony Hunt and could certainly help wear down a defense throughout the game.
Entering the 2015 season, it appeared running back could be a major weakness with only one experienced back in Akeel Lynch. Flash forward a year, and Lynch has transferred to find an opportunity to see the field and the biggest challenge for the position may be figuring out a way to somehow divvy up carries between a slew of talented running backs.
A Diverse and Loaded Set of Pass-Catchers
The wide receiver position is likely Penn State's most talented position group, and is filled with a mixture of proven talent and tremendous potential. Chris Godwin had a major breakout season in 2015 and could very well be on his way to becoming a first round pick. DaeSean Hamilton, the Big Ten's leading receiver in 2014, is an outstanding route-runner and catches about everything thrown in his direction. We've seen flashes from Saeed Blacknall during the past two seasons, and the tall and speedy receiver seems poised to breakout as an upperclassman. Brandon Polk and DeAndre Thompkins both have lightning-fast speed and should do wonders in the slot while helping open up the offense. Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson are both coming off a redshirt year, and could end up being the top wideouts on the team in the very near future. Both are large targets (6'4'' and 220-plus lbs.) with outstanding speed and the ability to create major mismatches each time they step on the field. While we're at it, let's add tight end Mike Gesicki to the list. The 6'6'', 250 lb. junior is coming off a rocky 2015 season, but if he can overcome a bad case of the yips and hang on to the ball, he could quickly become a dangerous weapon and one of the top tight ends in the Big Ten.
A New Sheriff in Town
It became quite obvious a change was needed at offensive coordinator at the end of the 2015 regular season, and James Franklin made the decision to part ways with John Donovan just hours after a demoralizing blowout loss to Michigan State on Senior Day. After a nationwide search and plenty of speculation, Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead was selected to lead Penn State's offense.
Moorhead earned a reputation as an offensive mastermind as he quickly transformed Fordham's stagnant offense into one of the best in the FCS. He is expected to bring a fast-paced offense to Happy Valley that aims for 80-85 plays per game. His track record suggests he knows how to keep a defense on its toes for the entire 60 minutes by spreading the ball out among a slew of skill position players- a seemingly perfect fit for this team considering the aforementioned talent on the roster.
Major changes are coming for the Penn State offense, and even if they come with a fair share of hiccups in year one, they should be largely embraced as a sign of progress after two years of head-scratching ineptitude.