Penn State Football: 3 Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason
There hasn't been much for Penn State football fans to cheer about so far in 2014.
In the past few days, new concerns have emerged that affect both the immediacy and longevity of Nittany Lion football. Recent events have sent shockwaves through the program, some even signaling a new era.
While the magnitudes vary, all are key issues that Penn State needs to address before its 2014 football season gets underway.
Here are the three biggest concerns for the Nittany Lions this offseason.
Replacing Allen Robinson
Someone is going to have to step up in 2014 and fill the shoes of Allen Robinson.
Penn State's leading receiver the last two seasons, Robinson accounted for roughly 38 percent of the total receiving yards by Penn State receivers over that span. Last week, Robinson announced that he'll enter the 2014 NFL draft.
It's hard to think that any one player can step up and produce the way Robinson did for Penn State. In his absence, the Nittany Lions will have to find production from a variety of wide receivers.
Geno Lewis, Richy Anderson and Matt Zanellato will all be asked to step up next season. The three combined to catch only 35 passes for 398 yards and three scores this season—a far cry from the numbers that Robinson was able to put up.
Without a true No. 1 receiver, Penn State will have to spread the ball around a lot more than it has of late. Spring practice will be a critical time for quarterback Christian Hackenberg to try to identify a prime target.
On the recruiting trail, the Nittany Lions have three wide receivers committed to their 2014 class—Troy Apke, Chris Godwin and De'Andre Thompkins. Godwin and Thompkins—who both played in the Under Armour All-America Game last week—could see valuable playing time as true freshmen.
Right now though, making sure they're still planning on coming to Penn State is the bigger concern.
Keeping the 2014 Recruiting Class Intact
Trying to keep as much of the 2014 recruiting intact as possible is a big concern right now for Penn State.
While the player floodgates haven't opened up like the last time Penn State faced hiring a new football coach, there's always the uncertainty that comes with a new hire.
In the wake of Bill O'Brien's departure to the Houston Texans, Penn State appointed defensive line coach Larry Johnson as interim head coach. Johnson has been in contact with members of the 2014 recruiting class since then.
As of Sunday, no players had decommitted from Penn State's class since O'Brien left.
One of the most important recruits from the 2014 class is quarterback Michael O'Connor. Penn State needs to do whatever it can to keep him on board. As of right now, Christian Hackenberg is the only scholarship quarterback on the roster.
O'Connor, who was scheduled to enroll at Penn State this month, has said he'll wait for the coaching search to play out before making a decision on his future.
On the other hand, safety Marcus Allen has already issued a statement reaffirming his commitment. The fact that no one has formally announced a decision to decommit has to be promising for now.
Finding a New Head Coach
For the second time since 2011, Penn State is again in the market for a new head coach.
The process started last week, when David Joyner announced at a press conference that Penn State would begin a national search to find its 16th head coach. There has been chatter of late, centered around a few specific names.
According to Dustin Hockensmith of Pennlive.com, rumors started circulating on Friday that University of Miami head coach Al Golden was discussing the opportunity with Penn State brass. A former Nittany Lion tight end, Golden is viewed as an ideal fit due to his Penn State roots. However, he issued a statement on Sunday saying that he wasn't being considered for another job.
With Golden seemingly out of the mix, Joyner and the search committee will next focus their attention on James Franklin and Mike Munchak. Franklin is currently the head coach at Vanderbilt, while Munchak had been the head coach of the Tennessee Titans before being fired this weekend. Both candidates interviewed for the position on Sunday, according to reports.
From here on out, you'd have to think Franklin is Penn State's primary target. He has experience in the college game and is a proven recruiter while Munchak's only coaching experience has been in the NFL with one franchise.
Joyner has indicated that the process to make a new hire will be quick, so Penn State will likely find its next head coach by the end of this week.