by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

It will be a difficult if not impossible task, but Penn State will attempt to turn the page on an era of greatness that ended in shame. The resignation and death of college football icon Joe Paterno has thrust ex-New England Patriot offensive guru Bill O’Brien (left) into the uncomfortable position of replacing a legend who’d been the face of Penn State football for 46 seasons.

Unfortunately for his legacy, Paterno’s reign ended when ex-defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged (and eventually convicted) of sexual child abuse. What should’ve been a glorious ending to an amazing career came to a halt with reporters hounding the Paterno family with questions about who knew what and when. (For further TGS insights into the Sandusky mess, check out our archived pages for related commentary.) Now it’s up to O’Brien to pick up the pieces.

A similar scenario occurred at Alabama in 1983, when ex-New York Giant coach Ray Perkins took over for the great Bear Bryant, who, like Paterno, passed away shortly after leaving his long-time position. Tide alum Perkins went 7-4 in his first season and accumulated a 32-15-1 record during his tenure at Tuscoloosa before deciding to leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Perkins’ Bama teams were just 9-12 against the number in his first two seasons on the job, and his overall straight-up mark paled in comparison with Bryant’s 232-46-9 record and six national championships. It’s not easy satisfying the fans following a Hall of Fame coach.

O’Brien has managed to overcome negative publicity and put together an impressive 2013 recruiting class, but in the short term it could be rough going for the Nittany Lions. Penn State’s offensive line returns just one starter. The receiving corps must replace five of the top six pass-catchers from a year ago after returning starter Devon Smith left the team for personal reasons believed linked to a marijuana charge. Fifth-year senior QB Matt McGloin (left) was named the starter after winning the spring competition, but he has just one proven dangerous receiving weapon, WR Justin Brown (35 recs.). Jr. Rob Bolden began last season as the starter, but he fell to third on the depth chart behind McGloin and RS soph Paul Jones, and he was not with the team as summer workouts began. Rumors of an impending transfer were spreading. Jones has the “it” factor and a cannon of an arm and might be a better fit down the road in the new attack. O’Brien’s offense will be much different from Paterno’s more conservative approach, similar to the TE-oriented passing attack developed at New England. True frosh TE Jesse James, the only early-enrollee from the freshman class, looked like an impressive physical specimen at 6-7, 265, and he could rapidly carve out a role in the new offense.

The running game has an excellent “tip of the spear” in Silas Redd (right, vs. Ohio State last November), who was named to the All-Big Ten team after gaining 1241 yards and scoring 7 touchdowns in 2011. Redd’s 5.1 ypc might be difficult to duplicate considering the considerable turnover in the offensive line, as center Matt Stankiewitch is the lone returning regular. A total of just four returning offensive starters and a new, complex scheme should signal a slow offensive start for Penn State, despite the development of some of the younger receivers in spring work.

The Penn State defense overcame injuries to hold foes to fewer than 17 points per game last season, good for fifth-best in the nation. The stop unit overachieved despite an injury to sr. LB Michael Mauti, who went down in the fourth game against Eastern Michigan and was finished for the season. Mauti has recovered and is being counted on to play a major role in the fall, as he’s one of five returning starters on a unit that must replace its entire secondary and a pair of NFL draftees on the defensive line. The defense was ahead of the offense in spring, which is to be expected considering the lack team’s learning curve with the new scheme. However, a soft early schedule should allow the defense time to fit in the new pieces and if Mauti stays healthy, he’s capable of all-conference-level performance, while sr. LB Gerald Hodges made the all-conference squad in 2011, when he had 106 tackles, and jr. MLB Glenn Carson (left, last November vs. Ohio State) stepped into a starter’s role and had 74 tackles last season. Linebacker U. is still Linebacker U., so this group will carry the defense.

Three seniors will start up front, including returning starters DE Sean Stanley and DT Jordan Hill on the left side. The loss of all the 2ndary starters and the absence of a top-drawer pass rusher could be a problem once the team gets into the meat of the conference schedule. The DBs will get a test in the opener facing Ohio U.’s Tyler Tettleton, who ranked 20th in the country a year ago in total offense, so take a temperature reading against the Bobcats.

The kicking game boasts one of the top duel-threat kickers in the country in all-Big Ten jr. Anthony Fera, and Paterno recruited speed over the last several years, and there’s reason to anticipate some big plays from the return teams.

Summary: A huge crowd showed up as usual for the Penn State spring game, and there was a real game-day buzz around town surrounding the unveiling of O’Brien’s “first draft” in Happy Valley. Our feeling is there might be a good deal of re-writing to be done, and it’s uncertain if O’Brien is the coach that will truly turn the page on Paterno and write another chapter. The audience is enthusiastic, but will the Nittany Lions be ready by the time the curtain goes up September 1?


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