The narrative entering the 2012 season went something like this – because of NCAA sanctions, the transfers, and a postseason ban Penn State was in deep trouble. No way they have a winning record, let along challenge for the Leaders Division championship.
Yet, that's exactly what happened as Penn State fought off a bad start to the season and ended 2012 with an 8-4 overall record that included a 6-2 Big Ten record too. Not bad for a team supposedly in shambles thanks to the distraction of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the subsequent sanctions, huh?
However, the question remains…. was 2012 an anomaly thanks to a great senior class or is this a sign of what's to come in the Bill O'Brien era? Let's explore what happened in 2012 and see what it says about 2013.
Silas Redd transfers away and this offense is left with NOTHING for a running back. At least this was the narrative. Instead Zach Zwinak steps up and rushes for 1,000 yards. Not too shabby for a former fullback type player. That was a massive help to this team's ability to have a winning record.
Additionally the fact that this team didn't fold after losses at home to Ohio and on the road at Virginia and instead went on a five game winning streak was nothing but good news as well. Credit O'Brien for having a vision and for the seniors for helping him execute that vision in the face of everything coming down on them.
Finally, you have to be impressed with a team that was 2nd in scoring defense in the Big Ten last season (19.1ppg). Credit to a group of seniors that really righted the ship and made this defense the backbone of this teams success.
Those two opening losses were BAAAADDD. Virginia was a weak ACC squad and Ohio, while a good MAC program should never be able to beat a Penn State team. The losses themselves were bad, but the fact that they couldn't score more than 14 or 16 points in either game was what really made it bad.
Penn State was 9th in the Big Ten in rushing offense – that isn't something that should happen to a Penn State team ever. Sure, they offset it with a 2nd place finish in passing offense and ultimately they played to their strengths, but moving forward this team can't survive with that kind of a disparity because they simply won't have the players in place to make it all work like that thanks to the reduction in scholarships.
What was really ugly about this team last season was special teams – strange considering O'Brien's years under Bill Belichek. Anyway, this team finished dead last in kickoff returns (averaging 18.1 yards a return) and 9th in punt returns (averaging 6.1 yards a return). Add in a kicking game that was so bad O'Brien opted to go for it on 4th downs more often than kicking it as the season went on.
At the end of the day the special teams units ranked 12th (kickoff returns), 11th (punting), 9th (punt returns) and 8th (field goals). That's U-G-L-Y.
What 2012 tells us about 2013:
Well, not much to be honest. That's because gone are the quarterback and center on offense and gone are three of the four starters up front and two linebackers as well. That's a lot to lose and have any continuity from last year to this year.
However, what we do know from that season is that Bill O'Brien can flat out coach and it appears he can also flat out hire the right recruiters because despite all that this team faces he hit a homerun out of the park in his first season coaching and in his 1st full recruiting class as well. If anything 2012 tells us that O'Brien can be expected to find ways to put his best players in a position to win games for them.