Zach Zwinak came out in a big way this season and was a major part of Penn State’s success in the latter half of 2012.
Zwinak finished the year with exactly 1,000 yards rushing and rumbled into the end zone six times. The once highly-touted fullback also showed his versatility out of the backfield, with 20 catches for 177 yards and one touchdown receiving.
But as the page turns towards a new season for the Penn State program, there will undoubtedly be changes in the team makeup.
The Lions are set to lose key contributors on offense, including Matt McGloin, Michael Zordich, Matt Stankiewitch and early-season contributor Derek Day. So when next season rolls around, Zwinak, who is one of the main staples in Bill O’Brien’s offense and Penn State’s most productive back, will be locked into the starting running back roll right?
Zwinak will not be the starter when Penn State kicks off the 2013 season against Syracuse in the Meadowlands.
This past season when O’Brien benched sophomore RB Bill Belton after an ankle injury slowed him down, O’Brien made it known that Belton wasn’t really earning a starting spot in practice.
By this point in the year, that message should be loud and clear to Belton.
Belton is quicker and has a skill set that fits better into O’Brien’s offense than does that of Zwinak.
But Belton isn’t the only back vying for the starting job.
Coming out of St. Francis High School in New York in 2011, Akeel Lynch wasn’t exactly a big name in recruiting, and the three-star prospect wasn’t ranked amongst Penn State’s top recruits from last year.
O’Brien on the other hand decided to redshirt Lynch, saying that the running back is a “very, very good player.” With his redshirt season in the books now, Lynch has the opportunity to compete for the starting job as well.
But all of this speculation about the talents of Belton and Lynch is just that: speculation. But what we can say with certainty is that their production to this point has paled in comparison to Zwinak's.
As I have written before, though, Penn State doesn’t match up with SEC teams well at all. The SEC is arguably the best and fastest conference in college football, and most teams from that conference would literally run right by the Lions.
This is where Lynch and Belton come in.
Both of these backs are quick and bring that speed element that Zwinak doesn’t quite bring.
Belton will be in his second year as a full-time running back, while Lynch will have an entire year in O’Brien’s system.
Zwinak proved he is a hard worker this season and that he can put up numbers with his rumblin’, “smack-you-in-the-mouth” brand of football.
But last season is last season, and O’Brien has shown that he chooses no favorites, no matter what kind of success you have had.
Don’t get me wrong Zwinak had an outstanding year; his production says it all.
With two talented backs behind Zwinak who are itching to get that starting job, O’Brien might lean more toward the most explosive backs and use Zwinak as a short-yardage pounder.