The college football season kicks off with local teams having very different goals. Temple’s goal is to continue its recent success as it makes the transition back into the Big East. Penn State’s goal is to restore a sense of normalcy after the uproar surrounding the indictment and conviction of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on sexual abuse charges. The Nittany Lions would also like to win a lot of football games.
In the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), formerly I-AA, all three local teams would like a “bounce back” season. Delaware would like to return to the national championship picture after being left out of the playoffs last season. Villanova seeks a turnaround after last year’s uncharacteristic 2-9 campaign. Penn would like to get back in the mix for the Ivy League title after a .500 season last year.
Head coach: Bill O’Brien
Last season: 9-4
No football program has ever had a season and offseason comparable to what the Nittany Lions have endured. After an 8-1 start last season, former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was indicted on charges of sexually abusing boys, legendary head coach Joe Paterno was fired and soon after succumbed to lung cancer, and the program was hit with draconian sanctions by the NCAA on the heels of the scathing Freeh Report.
As part of the sanctions, players were allowed to transfer to other schools without losing any eligibility. Some players took advantage of the “escape” clause, most notably top running back Silas Redd (USC) and kicker Anthony Fera (Texas).
The cupboard isn’t bare. But it’s not nearly as full as it was before the summer.
There is a new head coach, but we should see once again why Penn State is known as Linebacker U. Senior Mike Mauti is returning after a second torn ACL. His health is a key concern because his leadership is invaluable for this team in turmoil. Senior Gerald Hodges is the other outside linebacker, with junior Glenn Carson in the middle.
The defensive line features Jordan Hill at defensive tackle and Sean Stanley at defensive end. Pete Massaro, whose career has been marred by injuries, is competing for playing time at the other defensive end. Cornerback Stephon Morris anchors the secondary.
The defense, with eight starters returning, should be in decent shape unless it has to spend too much time on the field. Bill O’Brien brings a new philosophy of offense with him from the New England Patriots, but he might not have the pieces needed for proper execution.
Senior Matt McGloin, a former walk-on, won the starting quarterback competition. McGloin has all the intangibles you would want in a starting quarterback, if not all the physical skills of an elite quarterback, but he doesn’t have as many weapons at his disposal as he had last season.
Only five starters, including McGloin, return on offense. Entering Saturday’s opener, there were new starters or ongoing battles at all of the so-called “skill” positions. Sophomore Allen Robinson has earned one starting receiver position.
McGloin does have one familiar face in the backfield in fullback Mike Zordich. Like Mauti, Zordich has already graduated but has one year of eligibility remaining. Guard John Urschel and center Matt Stankiewitch will try to provide a push up the middle to help Penn State control the clock.
Sophomore Sam Ficken tries to fill the big shoes left by Fera’s departure. Alex Butterworth handles the punting duties.
Because what happened to Penn State during the past 10 months is unprecedented, there’s no way to predict how the Nittany Lions will react this season. They could rally together or, particularly if there are injuries to key players, they could fall apart.
The Nittany Lions don’t get any breaks by opening against Ohio, runner-up in the Mid-American Conference last season and the favorite to win the conference this season. Ohio has a lot of returning players, including talented quarterback Tyler Tettleton.
Outlook: If the Nittany Lions aren’t careful, they could stub their toe against Ohio, which would indicate it will be a long season. On the other hand, if they get past Ohio and string together a few victories before facing Temple on Sept. 22, they could build up a good record by the midpoint of the season and finish in the 7-5 or 8-4 range.
Head coach: Steve Addazio
Last year: 9-4
Temple, which opens its season Friday against Villanova in the Mayor’s Cup, makes the transition from the Mid-American Conference to the Big East.
The Owls have been eligible for bowl games for three straight years. Their 37-15 victory over Wyoming last year in the New Mexico Bowl, in Addazio’s first year at Temple, was the second bowl win in the program’s history. Temple would like to have a shot at their third bowl victory.
Standing in their way, however, is a considerably tougher schedule. There won’t be any easy weeks for the Owls. With a tougher schedule, Temple could be just as good as last season but finish with a worse record.
The offense only returns four starters from last season. The most notable departures are running back Bernard Pierce and tight end Evan Rodriguez (35 receptions, 479 yards). Pierce averaged 5.4 yards per carry while rushing for 1,518 yards and a school-record 27 touchdowns.
The Owls may have found a replacement for Pierce, who was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, in senior Montel Harris, who transferred from Boston College. Harris is the all-time leading rusher in the ACC.
Harris will share the backfield load with senior Matt Brown, who was no slouch last year with 916 yards rushing and six touchdowns. Brown is also an excellent returner of kickoffs (25.1 yards ave.) and punts (10.1), so he helps the offense with field position before it ever takes the field.
Junior Chris Cover is the surviving member of last season’s quarterback troika, which included Mike Gerardi and Chester Stewart. If Cover (30 of 50, 463 yards, six TDs) falters, juniors Clinton Granger and Kevin Newsome, who started his career at Penn State, are waiting in the wings.
Junior Deon Miller (18 catches, 253 yards, 3 TDs) figures to be the quarterbacks’ top target. With only one starter returning on the offensive line, however, the Owls’ quarterbacks might not have as much time as they were used to for locating open receivers.
Five starters return from Temple’s outstanding defense. For all the attention Pierce received, the defense’s average of 13.2 points allowed ranked only behind Alabama and LSU, the top two teams in the country.
With defensive end Adrian Robinson gone, nose tackle Levi Brown anchors the defensive line. Senior Justin Gildea leads the way for the secondary, but the starting linebackers will all be new.
Brandon McManus returns to handle the kicking and punting duties. McManus (16-22 on field goals, 45.8 punting average) and Brown could make the Owls’ special teams very special.
Outlook: It’s difficult to predict how Temple will fare in its first season back in the Big East. Needless to say, the Owls need a victory over Villanova in their opener. They don’t want to face non-league opponents Maryland and Penn State the following two weeks without a win under their belt.
Head coach: Andy Talley
Last year: 2-9
After going a combined 38-9 the previous three seasons, Villanova fell off the cliff last year. It was a Murphy’s Law year, when practically everything that could go wrong went wrong.
Ten starters return from last year’s young team. The Wildcats also get back senior Norman White, who missed all of last season with a foot injury after catching 69 passes for 886 yards and 11 touchdowns the previous year.
Sophomore quarterback Chris Polony will be happy to have White as a target, along with Dorian Wells (38 catches last season, 450 yards, 5 TDs). Polony started seven games as a freshman, completing 56.6 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns and six interceptions.
Polony will be protected by an experienced offensive line. Tackles Bill Vogel and Vince Kowalski, guard John Bucci and center Dan Shirey started all 11 games last season.
The strength of the defense should be the linebacker, where all three starters return. Sophomore Dillon Lucas tries to build upon his outstanding freshman season, when he led Villanova with 92 tackles and was named Colonial Athletic Association defensive rookie of the year. Senior Devon Bridges and sophomore Joey Harmon are the other starting linebackers.
Safety should be another strong position. Ronnie Akins enters his third year as starter. Senior Eric Loper returns as a starting cornerback.
Outlook: Villanova should bounce back from last year’s 2-9 record. The question is how quickly will they recover? A victory over Temple in the Mayor’s Cup this Friday could give the Wildcats the confidence to put together a terrific season. But flirting with a .500 record would be a step in the right direction.
Head coach: K.C. Keeler
Last year: 7-4
The Blue Hens have a chip on their shoulders after being left out, unjustifiably, in their minds, of the FBS playoffs. With 14 starters returning, the Blue Hens will try to improve upon last season’s record, so they are not at the mercy of the tournament committee to receive one of the final at-large bids.
Leading the way for Delaware, which opens its season Thursday night against West Chester, is junior running back Andrew Pierce. Pierce rushed for 1,279 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
The experienced receiving corps also appears to be very good. Senior Nihja White caught 50 passes for 673 yards last season. White has at least one reception in 33 straight games. Fellow senior Rob Jones also will start, along with sophomore Michael Johnson in the Blue Hens’ three-receiver sets.
The receivers are familiar, but there will be a new face under center this season. Sophomore Trent Hurley, a transfer from Bowling Green, won the battle to be the starting quarterback. Senior Tom Donnelly, who started nine games last season, will start the season as the backup.
Middle linebacker Paul Worrilow, a senior, leads the defense. He is flanked at linebacker by senior Leon Jackson and redshirt freshman Jeff Williams.
Outlook: The Blue Hens want to get back into the national championship picture. They have dangerous weapons in Pierce and White. If Hurley grows into his role quickly, it’s not out of the question that Delaware will be in the championship hunt.
Head coach: Al Bagnoli
Last year: 5-5
The Quakers don’t start their season until Sept. 15 at Lafayette, so their depth chart isn’t quite filled out yet. But, with 17 starters returning from last season, head coach Al Bagnoli has a pretty good idea of what to expect this season.
Penn’s offense will center around senior quarterback Billy Ragone. Ragone completed 57 percent of his passes last season. He threw for 11 touchdowns, but also threw 11 interceptions. Ragone also ran for 528 yards, second-best on the team, and seven touchdowns, which led the Quakers. Ragone certainly has a flair for the dramatic, and his will to win was evident in late-game situations.
The Quakers’ leading rusher last season, Brandon Colavita, also returns for his senior season. Colavita (706 yards, 4 TDs) headlines a senior-dominated rushing attack that also includes seniors Jeff Jack and Lyle Marsh.
With leading receiver Ryan Calvert (58 receptions, 641 yards, 5 TDs) gone, the Quakers may rely a little more on their ground game this season. Junior Ryan Mitchell (39 receptions, 587 yards, 3 TDs) is the top returning receiver. Senior Joe Holder (20 catches) also returns, and there is a huge crop of sophomore and freshmen receivers hoping to contribute.
The defense will have to compensate for the loss of linebacker Erik Rask, who was far and away the Quakers’ leading tackler last season with 83. Matt Hamscher, tied for second in tackles, also is gone, but defensive lineman Brandon Copeland, also with 51 tackles, returns to anchor the defense in his senior season.
Defensive backs Justyn Williams and Sebastian Jaskowski were both solid tacklers last season, but Penn needs some players to step up at linebacker and along the defensive line so the defensive backs aren’t forced to make so many tackles.
Outlook: The Quakers finished at .500 last season, avoiding the second losing season in Bagnoli’s 20 years at Penn. They expect to do better this season, perhaps challenging Harvard for the Ivy League title the Quakers captured in 2009 and 2010 before Harvard wrested it away last year. Wins against Lafayette on Sept. 15 and in the home opener against Villanova on Sept. 22 would help the Quakers get off to a good start toward attaining their championship aspirations.