Penn State opens its season against Central Florida in the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland. Here’s a closer look:
Penn State vs. Central Florida
Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland
Saturday, 8:30 a.m., ESPN2
Scouting Penn State
This is the first game for new head coach James Franklin, a native of Langhorne and graduate of Neshaminy (see story), who succeeds Bill O’Brien. Franklin inherits a team that went 7-5 last year, and has at his disposal an excellent quarterback in sophomore Christian Hackenberg, who threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2013, with 10 interceptions. The wide receivers are largely new, save Geno Lewis (18 catches), but there is a wealth of talent at running back and tight end. The offensive line, featuring four new starters, is a huge concern. Defensively, there are question marks at linebacker — an oddity at Linebacker U. — but the line and secondary are expected to be strengths.
Scouting Central Florida
Quarterback Blake Bortles was the best player on the field when the two teams met last year in State College, engineering a 34-31 Knights victory. He’s with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars now, having been taken in the first round of the draft, and his successor is redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo. The Knights, 12-1 last fall, also lost their top rusher, Storm Johnson, but William Stanback is coming off a season in which he ran for 470 yards (4.2 per carry). UCF returns nine starters on defense, headed by linebacker Terrance Plummer (110 tackles in ’13). Safety Clayton Geathers (100 tackles, two picks) and cornerback Jacoby Glenn head a veteran secondary.
Penn State leads, 2-1, though both Nittany Lions victories have been vacated under NCAA sanctions handed down in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
Storyline to watch
Two things: How different will the Lions be under Franklin? And can PSU block an experienced Central Florida defense?
What’s at stake?
Franklin has galvanized the program in every way, but even he acknowledges the depth issues brought on by NCAA sanctions. The Lions have only 75 players under scholarship this season, 10 below the norm, and will surely be tested not only by the Knights but the unique circumstances of this opener.