Looking ahead: Running backs
January, 10, 2013
By Josh Moyer | ESPN.com
In the next week, NittanyNation will be taking a glance at different positions and their outlook for next season.
- Who: Zach Zwinak, the quiet redhead who was almost never tackled in the backfield, returns and could be among the best backs in the Big Ten. He's not the fastest or most agile tailback but, at 232 pounds, he wreaked havoc on the interior and wore down defenses for four quarters. Bill Belton will take a back seat to Zwinak, and he could have competition as a change-of-pace guy. Rising redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch has already earned praise from Bill O'Brien, and early enrollee Richy Anderson could also see some time on the field.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikZach Zwinak figures greatly in Penn State's rushing plans.
- Strengths: There's still a good mix here between power (Zwinak) and speed (Belton, Lynch) -- so O'Brien has a lot of options here. Zwinak also became more involved with the passing game and Belton is a former wideout, so this group can threaten in different ways. And Zwinak is just plain hard to bring down.
- Weaknesses: Before the 2012 season, O'Brien expected Belton to handle 20-25 carries a game. Then he became injured and seemed to lack focus and, at times, speed for the rest of the season. Belton is still a wild card and -- with the departures of Curtis Dukes, Derek Day and Michael Zordich -- PSU needs to find a dependable backup. There's not as much depth here as there was last season, and that means trouble if Zwinak can't stay healthy.
- Surprise player: Lynch. ESPN's scouts called him a "potential sleeper" at this time last year, and he'll definitely be given opportunities in 2013. He's a balanced guy who can reach top speed quickly, and this season could be his coming-out party. He's definitely a player to watch in the spring.
- Overall: As long as Zwinak stays healthy, this position should be stronger than last season. Sure, there is less depth, but Dukes and Day didn't play big roles in the offense. Zordich's loss hurts, but if that means a few more carries for Zwinak, Penn State should be just fine. Another offseason with Charles London can only help Zwinak, and the combination of Lynch-Belton will offer defenses plenty of different looks.
Challenges Facing Franklin at Penn State
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35