Penn State Football: 5 Former Blue-Chippers Who Will Finally Shine in 2014
In college football, there is no free agency. There are no trades between schools that drastically change rosters from year to year or even week to week.
Instead, the college game offers an evolution of sorts—a constant transition of high school athletes becoming ex-college football players and, hopefully, college graduates.
Each year at every school across the country, players move on, leaving room for new players to grow and blossom on the field.
Recruiting is essentially the stockpiling of talent as insurance against this natural evolution.
While Allen Robinson and DaQuan Jones have moved on to the NFL, Penn State has been preparing each year by recruiting new athletes who will eventually fill those voids.
Their time is now.
Which former high school standouts will shine in blue and white this fall?
Let's take a look at five former blue-chip recruits who are primed for a breakout season in 2014.
All star ratings and position rankings are courtesy of 247Sports Composite ratings.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
DE C.J. Olaniyan
In 2011, 4-star recruit C.J. Olaniyan surprised some by committing to Penn State from the state of Michigan.
Rated the 11th best weak-side defensive end and the fifth best overall prospect from Michigan three years ago, Olaniyan saw his first real action in 2013 when he started at end and led the team in sacks with five.
Going back to the CJ Olaniyan sack, Larry Johnson told me b4 Olaniyan consistently grades out of practice better than any other #PSU DE.— Audrey Snyder (@audsnyder4) September 7, 2013
While he's hardly under the radar heading into his senior season, Olaniyan has the tools and now the experience to be an all-conference player.
Gifted with terrific athleticism and lateral quickness, look for Olaniyan to be a disruptive force this season as he prepares for a career in the NFL.
WR Geno Lewis
Eugene "Geno" Lewis was the top signee in the 2012 class and saw limited action in 2013 after redshirting as a freshman.
He grew as a player as the season wore on and finished his year with a two-touchdown performance against Wisconsin.
Following the departures of Brandon Moseby-Felder and Allen Robinson, he'll be asked to take on the role of No. 1 receiver in 2014.
The former high school quarterback was rated as the fourth best in-state recruit and the 20th wide receiver prospect in the country. His ability to live up to that billing will go a long way in helping Christian Hackenberg realize his potential this season.
People want to know who will catch passes whenever Allen Robinson is gone. Geno Lewis volunteers as tribute.— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) November 30, 2013
LB Mike Hull
A 4-star Pennsylvania prospect, Mike Hull was considered the seventh best outside linebacker recruit in the country when he signed with Penn State in 2010.
Limited during his career by both injuries and his size, the new staff has moved the speedy Hull to middle linebacker and hope he can better utilize his athletic skill set there.
LB Mike Hull: "I'm trying to get to the point where Mauti was, expecting a lot out of the guys and just letting them know."— Josh Moyer (@ESPNJoshMoyer) April 3, 2014
Hull has played with Penn State standouts like Nate Stupar, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti. He understands what it means to be a Nittany Lion linebacker.
One of the strongest players on the team, if Hull's health holds up over a 12-game season, he's a guy who could easily eclipse the 100-tackle mark in his final college season.
DT Anthony Zettel
Zettel committed to Penn State as a 4-star defensive end—the 10th rated strong-side end in the country. Like Olaniyan, Zettel hails from Michigan and stunned fans of both Penn State and the Wolverines when he came on board with the 2011 class.
After a couple of years in the defensive end rotation, Zettel has bulked up and is moving inside to take over for DaQuan Jones at tackle.
Olaniyan said DT Anthony Zettel has had a great spring and is incredibly quick off the ball. “He will make a lot of plays for us."— Tony Mancuso (@GoPSUTony) April 8, 2014
With his explosiveness off the ball, Zettel has the potential to be a disruptive force in the middle and could lead the team in tackles for loss as a DT in similar fashion to the departed Jones.
RB Bill Belton
With 1,126 career rushing yards and 11 all-purpose touchdowns, Bill Belton is hardly a sleeper pick among Nittany Lion fans.
Still, 2014 could be the year that Belton etches out his place in Penn State history.
Despite a crowded backfield and the return of 1,000-yard rusher Zach Zwinak, Belton earned the trust of head coach Bill O'Brien in 2013 and posted the lion's share of carries in several games, including a 200-yard outing against Illinois and a gutty performance in the win over Michigan.
DID YOU KNOW Bill Belton's 201 yds is first 200+ yd rushing game by a #PennState player since Larry Johnson's 279 vs. MSU in 2002?— PlaybookMark (@PlaybookMark) November 3, 2013
Word is that Belton came into this spring stronger than ever. His receiving ability out of the backfield could be a luxury outlet for Hackenberg with questions along the offensive line.
The third best prospect from New Jersey, Belton was a former quarterback who was considered the 10th best athlete in the 2011 recruiting class.
Originally committed to Pitt, the 4-star athlete came on board with Penn State late in the cycle over offers from Oregon, Florida and South Carolina. He spent his first year playing wide receiver with a brief stint as a "wildcat quarterback."
O'Brien later wisely moved Belton to running back, and if he continues to progress on his current arc, that could be the position Belton plays in the NFL.