The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. The Sentinel staff will take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 35: Penn State

Coach: Bill O’Brien (0-0, first season)

2011 record: 9-4 (6-2 in Big Ten Conference, second in the Leaders Division)


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Look back: Hard to imagine that a season that featured nine wins would be considered a nightmare but that’s what happened in 2011. The team’s performance on the field was overshadowed by the atrocities that happened off of it. Legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired in November following the arrest of former Nittany Lions football coach Jerry Sandusky on child molestation charges. His dismissal drew the ire of many of the Penn State students and alumni. Assistant coach Tom Bradley coached the team on an interim basis for the remaining four games including an appearance in the TicketCity Bowl. The school hired former New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien to coach the team in 2012.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 6/5

Defensive starters lost/returning: 7/4

Key losses: WR Derek Moye, S Drew Astorino, DE Jack Crawford, DT Devon Still

Top returnees: QB Matt McGloin, RB Silas Redd, LB Gerald Hodges, LB Glenn Carson

Strengths: Penn State has a history of producing great running backs and Silas Redd is no exception. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound junior rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns while playing through some late-season injuries. … Linebackers Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson will patrol the middle of the Nittany Lions defense. Hodges was the team’s leading tackler last season with 106 tackles and was tied with Devon Stills with 4.5 sacks while Carrson added 74 tackles.

Weaknesses: Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden have see-sawed back-and-forth into the starting quarterback position. Neither have done much to claim the position outright so that’s why Bill O’Brien has opened up the spot for competition. McGloin was better statistically in 2011: 1,571 yards and eight touchdowns compared to Bolden’s 685 yards and two touchdowns with seven interceptions. Whomever wins the starting nod will have the benefit of working with O’Brien’s NFL expertise. … Center Matt Stankiewitch is the only piece from last year’s offensive line left which means finding suitable pieces will be key for this year’s success. … Devon Still’s departure leaves a huge hole to fill on the defensive line. Senior Jordan Hill will step into the anchor role. Hill had 59 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the unit.

Outlook: Let’s face it, this will be a rebuilding year for Penn State. With all of the off-field issues surrounding the school, O’Brien’s first order of business will be keeping his team focused to what’s happening on the field. That could be a tall order as more information from the Sandusky case continues to emerge. On the field, the offense was next-to-last in scoring and second-to-last in total offense in the Big Ten which will put the onus on O’Brien as the team’s offensive coordinator. Settling on a quarterback will be key for O’Brien’s staff as will be developing an offensive line. The defense only returns four starters which could be an issue in a difficult Big Ten.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 1 Ohio

Sept. 8 at Virginia

Sept. 15 Navy

Sept. 22 Temple

Sept. 29 at Illinois

Oct. 6 Northwestern

Oct. 20 at Iowa