- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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The bad news is it's still 98 days until the season kicks off. The good news? The Big Ten blog is here to help you pass the time with a weeklong series focusing on the conference's most indispensable players.
As a reminder, indispensable doesn’t necessarily mean best.
The goal is to identify players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they suffered an injury, were lost to suspension, kidnapped by Bigfoot, etc. Whether it’s from a particular player’s individual value or lack of depth at a position, we’re picking two guys from each team who fit the bill -- usually offense and defense, but not always.
Up next: Penn State
QB Christian Hackenberg: He's not exactly coming off an All-American season -- he had 15 interceptions to 12 touchdowns last year -- but Hackenberg is still tremendously valuable. He sparked several comebacks last year despite an inexperienced set of receivers and an offensive line that surrendered 44 sacks. And it's no stretch to say that Penn State wouldn't have had a winning record without him.
The same holds true this season. Although his 2014 performance continues to be debated -- basically boiling down to, "How how much of Hackenberg's struggles were his own fault?" -- his importance can't be understated. He's an experienced leader with plenty of arm strength. And his potential replacement? Redshirt freshman Trace McSorley, who has yet to take a snap in a real game.
Hackenberg is a great quarterback on a not-so-great offense. And there's a reason he was hailed by opposing B1G coaches -- time after time -- as one of the best in the nation: Penn State just wouldn't be the same without him.
RT Andrew Nelson: He's arguably the Lions' best offensive lineman right now. But that's not what makes him so indispensable.
The fact is that the offensive line is the weakest unit on this team and, without Nelson, it becomes much, much weaker. Left tackle is already a boondoggle between junior college transfer Paris Palmer and redshirt freshman Chance Sorrell. If Nelson goes down, both would have to start at opposite tackle spots.
That would be disastrous. Penn State averaged just 2.9 yards a carry last season thanks to the struggling offensive line and, without Nelson, that number has the potential to drop even further.
For Penn State's offense to work, it needs both Hackenberg and Nelson to stay healthy.