Looking Ahead to a Sanction-less Future at Penn State

So today’s a good day, amirite?

September 24, 2013 is going to be a day Penn State fans remember for a long, long time. While most memorable days at Penn State in the past few years will live in infamy, today is a day of celebration for everyone in Happy Valley and those who have known it.

Of course, when news of this magnitude breaks, there’s only one rational thing to do: immediately turn around and look at how it impacts future Penn State football teams, because #CULTURE. Let’s take a look.

2014-15 Season

Next year’s squad will be granted 75 scholarships, ten more than it expected to have yesterday. Whether it’s in recruiting or rewarding run-ons (probably both), this gives Bill O’Brien extra flexibility.

As for the team, its schedule sets up very, very nicely. Next year is the first year that Rutgers and Maryland, not exactly two football powerhouses, will join the Big Ten. Penn State plays both of them, and its most difficult road test will be in Ann Arbor against a young and talented Michigan squad.

The team gets Akron, UMass, Northwestern, Ohio State, Maryland, Temple, and Michigan State at home. The road games are Rutgers, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, with the team kicking off its season in Ireland against Central Florida.

If nobody declares for the draft, and if the bowl ban ends up getting lifted, next year’s team is shaping up to be solid. Outside of some question marks on the offensive line, every unit on Penn State’s team will be more experienced. Can you imagine Christian Hackenberg throwing to essentially the same receiving corps with some of the dynamic skill position players coming in with next year’s recruiting class? There’s a chance we’re looking at a 10-win team with a shot at winning the Big Ten title (if eligible).

2015-16 Season

The team gets bumped up to 80 scholarships, but it will lose several talented players. Allen Robinson, Adrian Amos, Bill Belton, Zach Zwinak, Mike Hull, and Sam Ficken will all have graduated, and several other players — Deion Barnes, Kyle Carter, Jesse James, and Donovan Smith, among others — will be draft eligible. While the team will be good, losing that much talent certainly hurts.

As for the team’s schedule, its home games are against Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan, while its away slate is Temple, Ohio State, Maryland, and Northwestern. The team also has two open weeks, one of which can be filled if the team wishes. While this year’s squad will be solid — Hackenberg, Akeel Lynch, and Adam Breneman may establish themselves as the best QB/RB/TE unit in America by this point — it would probably be down from the previous year’s team.

2016-17 Season

Remember when USC was supposed to come out of its sanctions and compete for a national title last year? This year’s Penn State team could be in a similar situation. Penn State will have all 85 scholarships back, it would be incredibly talented, and the schedule is very manageable. It would definitely be without Barnes, Carter, James, and Smith, and there’s a chance it’d be without Hackenberg if he’s a top prospect in the 2016 NFL Draft (HINT: he will be), but the team should still be loaded.

If Hackenberg were to stay and no current freshmen declare, we’re looking at a potential one loss or undefeated team. The schedule sets up nicely, outside of back-to-back games at Michigan and home against Ohio State, and if O’Brien can keep up his recruiting performance, the team will be stacked with talent across the board.

The full schedule will have home games against Kent State, Temple, Minnesota, Maryland, Ohio State, Iowa, and Michigan State, with road games against Pittsburgh, Michigan, Purdue, Indiana, and Rutgers. I know, a lot can change in four years, but if the team can stock up on talent and navigate that tricky UM/OSU portion of the schedule, we can be looking at Penn State’s best team since 2005 or at least 2008.

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