The greatest part about being a football writer for the Daily Collegian is that I do not have to be a Penn State supporter.
I can call out the offensive line when it falls like the Berlin Wall.
I can criticize quarterback Christian Hackenberg for blindly throwing the deep ball into double-coverage instead of checking down to his running back in the flat.
Having that luxury came in handy during some of the low points of the last few seasons.
But, this season I’m hopefully going to listen to some great advice my mom gave me before I arrived at campus for my freshman year –– “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to.”
I’m not here to rag on the Nittany Lions this season. I don’t think I will have to.
And, if you think I’m being overly-optimistic, think again.
First of all, the offensive line is returning four starters this season, which is three more than it returned at the start of the 2014 campaign.
The four players –– Brian Gaia, Angelo Mangiro, Andrew Nelson, Brendan Mahon –– all started at least nine games for Penn State last season. These nine-plus games allowed them to better their skills in a competitive environment that is unobtainable in a practice setting.
Football is an instinctual game, especially for the linemen. It’s a game of constant adjustments and understanding each player’s roles on each play.
With a year of experience, each player understands the nuances of each down. He knows when it is and when it isn’t his job to block the blitzing linebacker instead of the defensive tackle lined up in front of him.
And having a more stable offensive line will help Hackenberg, who has the potential to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
He’s as physically gifted as any other passer in the game, but his weaknesses were exploited last season due to the subpar and rather inexperienced line.
Just look at what Hackenberg did in the Pinstripe Bowl, though. He completed 78 percent of his passes (34-for-50) for 374 yards. He threw four touchdowns and did not throw an interception.
And he was sacked only twice.
The offensive line was finally starting to gel in the final game of the season, allowing Hackenberg to play to his full potential.
On Sunday, the first AP college football poll was released with Ohio State as the unanimous No. 1 team. Penn State was not ranked in the top 25, but received 20 votes.
But don’t count the Lions out just yet. They have an easy schedule, a very easy schedule. They only play two teams currently ranked in the top 25, the Buckeyes and Michigan State.
While part of the reason for the lowly schedule comes from the fact that none of the great teams wanted to play the then-sanctioned Lions when the schedule was made, a weak schedule is still a weak schedule.
Five of their first six games will be played in Beaver Stadium, and only two of their first six opponents — San Diego State and Rutgers — had winning records in 2014. The Lions defeated the Scarlet Knights last season and they did not play the Aztecs.
At some point in those first six weeks of the season, Penn State will be ranked, especially if it goes undefeated during that span, which is not unreasonable to expect.
The first six games also could allow the Lions to work out the inevitable kinks that come with the start of a new campaign, while still managing to win the games.
Now, I am not saying Penn State is the best team in the FBS, nor do I think they should be ranked at this point — the rankings take into account the previous season’s successes or failures — but when the season comes to a close, we could be referring to this team as the start of something new.
This team could return Penn State to the perennial powerhouse that it once was before it was stripped of its scholarships and bowl game eligibility.
This article was written by Matt Martell from Pennsylvania State University / Daily Collegian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.