The Penn State Football team that takes the field this coming Saturday against Ohio will look much different than the squad that walked off the field in Dallas on January 2nd after losing to Houston 30-14 in the Ticket City Bowl.
That was a given, even before transfers following sanctions shook up the roster even more. While familiar faces like Matt McGloin, Michael Zordich, and Michael Mauti remain, there will be many former backups thrust into starting roles and some young players asked to contribute right away.
Below is a look at ten Nittany Lions who you should get to know before Saturday. Some may be true freshman. Others might be upperclassmen who have been biding their time. All will be important to on field success as the season unfolds.
Akeel Lynch RB #22 — Bill Belton will start at running back, but that won’t stop Lynch from getting some carries, just like being stuck behind Evan Royster and Stephfon Green didn’t stop Silas Redd from getting the ball in 2010 when he was a freshman. Look for Lynch to see some more carries as the season goes on.
Miles Dieffenbach OL #65 — There were many changes along the offensive line, and Dieffenbach will be one of them as the redshirt sophomore takes over for Johnnie Troutman at left guard and will attempt to create running room for Belton, Lynch, and the rest of the Nittany Lions backfield.
Allen Robinson WR #8 — After playing sparingly as a freshman, the sophomore is now at the front of the pack in terms of wide receivers. Robinson went to high school with Rob Bolden, and while things never worked out for his high-school teammate at Penn State, Robinson looks ready for a break out campaign after a fantastic Blue-White game back in the spring.
Kyle Carter TE #87 — The redshirt freshman is projected to start at one of the tight end spots. He is worth watching in Bill O’Brien’s offense that will feature the position in the receiving game much more than fans are accustomed to from the final years of the old regime.
Eugene Lewis WR #16 — O’Brien has complimented the freshman wide receiver several times throughout training camp. As one of the most heralded recruits from Penn State’s 2012 signing class, Lewis will have chances to contribute immediately.
DaQuan Jones DT #91 — Listed at 6-3, 324 lb, the junior defensive tackle is hard to miss but has been stuck behind some good players up to this point in his career. He now gets the chance to play full time next to Jordan Hill on the defensive line.
Emery Etter LS #57 — Etter takes over for Jon Rohrbaugh as the team’s long snapper. In theory, you don’t want a long snapper to be in the spotlight because it means he likely did something wrong. It is in many ways a thankless job but it’s also a really important job.
Nyeem Wartman LB #5 — The talented freshman linebacker should be one of the first options if any of the starters get hurt. Even though the first unit is still very good, the transfer of Khairi Fortt left a hole in terms of depth that Wartman will fill. Don’t be surprised if he plays some significant downs throughout the season.
Da’Quan Davis DB #3 — Another one of O’Brien’s favorites from camp, the true freshman cornerback and benefactor of a razor thin secondary will have the chance to make an immediate impact.
Donovan Smith OL #76 — Anyone who doesn’t know who this guy is needs to learn fast. The redshirt freshman is projected to start at left tackle and should anchor the offensive line for the next four seasons. An absolute beast at 6-5 315 lb, Smith was slowed by a hamstring injury for part of the summer but is now ready to go. While there are bound to be some growing pains this year, Smith has every chance to be special.
These players may be flying under the radar now, but they won’t be for long.