As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each Tuesday over the summer. SU will open play at MetLife Stadium on August 31 against the Penn State Nittany Lions.
QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS: In his first season as head coach of the Nittany Lions, Bill O’Brien got the most he could out of Matt McGloin. In McGloin’s senior season, he threw for 3271 yards and 24 touchdowns, and a passer rating of 137.7. Now that McGloin is gone, O’Brien will have to lean heavily on JUCO transfer Tyler Ferguson. Heading into the spring, the quarterback position was a two-way race between Ferguson and sophomore Steven Bench. But when O’Brien named Ferguson the leader, Bench requested a transfer. It made sense, because Bench would likely be at best a second-string quarterback for the rest of his career with the highly touted Christian Hackenberg set to arrive in Happy Valley in June. O’Brien said that Hackenberg and Ferguson would split reps in practices, but come August, Penn State could very well be starting a true freshman.
WHO TO WATCH FOR: RB Zach Zwinak rushed for an even 1,000 yards and six touchdowns in the 2012 season, and figures to have another productive season so long as he can stay healthy. O’Brien confirmed that Zwinak sustained a serious wrist injury during their spring game that may limit him in practice through the summer. If Zwinak isn’t able to go, redshirt freshman RB Akeel Lynch has been drawing rave reviews at spring practices. Whoever ultimately gets carries, they’ll be running behind three offensive linemen who started last season and a talented group of tight ends. Still, there’s some question as to who will replace center Matt Stankiewitch and left tackle Mike Farrell. Wide receiver Allen Robinson will also get plenty of touches. He caught 77 passes for 1018 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
PREDICTION: O’Brien did an admirable job in the first post-Joe Paterno year, guiding the the school to an 8-4 record despite some of the heaviest sanctions the NCAA has ever given. With major changes in play calling, Penn State had one of its most productive offensive seasons in some time. With Syracuse’s own quarterback situation in flux, and Penn State’s vaunted defense, which returns many of its key players that allowed just 19.1 points last season, look for a Penn State win. PENN STATE 28, SYRACUSE 20.