There are still plenty of questions left this offseason about certain players and positions in the Big Ten. But, no matter what the topic, the answer usually boils down to two options: Is the player or unit getting better -- or worse?
So all this week we’ll be looking at pressing issues around the Big Ten and asking that one important question. The first topic: Penn State's offensive line.
Last season: 39 sacks allowed (T-No. 111 in nation), 93 tackles-for-loss allowed (T-No. 111 in nation)
Better or worse this season?
Coaching: Former offensive line coach Herb Hand left for Auburn in January, opening the door for Matt Limegrover to join the Nittany Lions’ staff as his replacement. Limegrover should be an upgrade for this team, especially considering his track record with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Over the past five seasons, Limegrover’s units never finished below No. 54 in tackles for loss allowed. During that same timeframe, Hand’s lines never finished better than No. 70. Granted, Hand received more blame than he deserved the last two seasons -- but Limegrover was an offensive coordinator last season and, as James Franklin told him, he’s done more with less in the past. He’s already familiar with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead -- the two went to the same high school -- and that kind of chemistry can only help matters. Verdict: Better
Personnel: Center Angelo Mangiro is the only departing starter here. Everyone else returns. Offensive tackle Andrew Nelson, the unit’s top player, is healthy once more. And, maybe more importantly, younger players are finally poised to step up. Redshirt freshman Ryan Bates, a former ESPN 300 recruit, has the inside track on the starting spot at left guard. Other underclassmen -- such as true freshman Connor McGovern and redshirt freshman Steven Gonzalez -- have the potential to contribute and/or challenge for a starting spot. There’s a lot more competition this season, a lot more depth and a lot more experience. Verdict: Better
Scheme: Moorhead’s up-tempo offense operates out of the shotgun, which should buy the quarterback a bit more time this season. And both Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens have the ability to run (and aren’t shy about taking off), so they should fare better at evading the rush compared to Christian Hackenberg. Players from Moorhead’s past squads have also said he prefers to wait until players are comfortable with the offense before going aggressive on the deep passes -- which isn't the strength of these two QBs, anyway -- so expect more short passes in space early on, which should further decrease the number of sacks. Verdict: Better
Prediction: There’s little doubt that Penn State’s offensive line, the Achilles’ heel of this team the past two seasons, will be better this season. The big question here is simply, “How much better?” The prediction here: Penn State allows 30 sacks or less in 2016 and, for the first time since 2013, at least one offensive lineman (likely Nelson) becomes a unanimous honorable mention on the All-B1G team. This unit might still be considered below average in 2016, but it'll still be better than their horrific performances in 2014 and 2015.