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Who Are The X-Factors?

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NCAA Football: Kent State at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Whether it was wide receiver Geno Lewis in 2013 or cornerback Jordan Smith in 2016, both guys came from the second team unit to play important roles throughout the season. Some might have called them x-factors — guys that weren’t starters, but played a major part in the outcome of games.

Every team has their x-factors. Who could they be for Penn State in 2019?

WIDE RECEIVER DANIEL GEORGE

Although fellow 2018 recruiting class signees Justin Shorter and Jahan Dotson are getting much of the pub as wide receivers who will take on a larger role in 2019, let’s not forget about Daniel George.

While we did not get to see a ton from George last season — he had just two receptions, albeit, one went for 95 yards — he’s certainly the mold of player who could take a big step between seasons. If you remember George as a recruit, he was a great athlete but rather raw when it came to his skills on the field. It was projected that he was going to need some seasoning, so the fact he was even a “yellow light” player last season shows that he:

A. Was a little further along in his development than we thought.
or
B. Picked up things quicker than anticipated.

Which one of those is more true, this blogger doesn’t know. But either way, I think it’s a good sign for his future. Now with a full offseason in the program, George should be ready to break into the wide receiver rotation, and could come in handy as a Saeed Blacknall-esque deep threat.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE DAMION BARBER

Penn State seems pretty set with its top three defensive tackles: Robert Windsor, Antonio Shelton, and PJ Mustipher. In all likelihood, those three guys will see the bulk of the snaps. Rounding out the two-deep seems like it will be Fred Hansard, who was beginning to pick things up last year before succumbing to a broken foot.

Although a four-man rotation is what the majority of schools would go with, Penn State’s defensive line coach Sean Spencer has been known to play five guys should the depth chart allow it. With Damion Barber, Spencer has an intriguing option that could round out his rotation. Unlike Windsor, Shelton, Mustipher, and Hansard — who are all more so 1-Techs — Barber is a natural 3-Tech, and being a former defensive end, should give you a little more quickness on the inside.

While Barber is still probably another year away from being a down-in and down-out player, his ability as a pass rusher could get him into games in — you guessed it — passing rushing situations. It certainly wouldn’t be the largest of roles, but one where Barber can impact the game the best way he knows how: getting after the quarterback.

KICKOFF SPECIALIST JORDAN STOUT

Hand up, I am cheating on this one. Stout will be a starter as the kickoff specialist, but I am including him anyway. Hey, my blog, my rules.

Rafael Checa, as a true freshman, performed admirably last year, and Penn State likely would have been fine with him as the starter this year. But Stout is simply on another level. I mean, an 84.5% touchback rate is ridiculous, and it’s the type of underrated weapon that won’t get the most recognition, but is pretty pivotal during the game.

While I suspect that Penn State will try to be a little more aggressive with Stout — Franklin is known for having his kickers angle it to a corner, but trying to keep it from being a touchback — it’s nice knowing that should Penn State choose to do so, it can essentially take away kickoff returns.