It's the dawn of another new era for Penn State football as new coach James Franklin is preparing to lead his squad to improve on a seven-win season a year ago. Considering the state of the program that was limited by sanctions, a year above .500 is considered a success.
Now with the sanctions all but disappeared, Franklin is ready to attempt to do some damage in the conference this season. It appears that an easier schedule could do just the trick.
Below are three key players to Penn State's success in 2014.
Christian Hackenberg - Quarterback
Undoubtedly the biggest no-brainer choice on the entire team to appear on this list.
Christian Hackenberg did all that you would ask from a true freshman quarterback and more in 2013. Only being Penn State's second true freshman to start for the Nittany Lions since 1911, Hackenberg started all 12 games and eventually played his way onto the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
Finishing 2013 with over 2900-yards passing with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, those numbers could see an increase in 2014. Though Hackenberg will not have the same targets (such as an Allen Robinson) to throw to, it is very possible that he can make some strides to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the conference.
He, alongside Robinson, also broke the hearts of Michigan fans last season.
Jordan Lucas - Defensive Back
First-year starter Jordan Lucas had a very productive 2013 season as a sophomore. Now returning as a leader on a defensive back group who has been needing one, Lucas will be a guy to look out for in 2014.
Finishing the year with 55 tackles, three interceptions and 24 pass deflections, it is clear that Lucas has an eye for the ball. A trait that could lead to bigger and better things as his junior year progresses.
Lucas spoke with Penn Live about his increasing leadership role:"Last year, I wasn't a leader last year so I really didn't have a voice,'' Lucas said.
"This year, I'm taking more of a leader role and trying to lead by example ... just so the guys know that we're not running this defense without any leaders out there.''
Lucas added: "When the old (Bill O'Brien) staff was here, (defensive) coach (John) Butler, he, before I even got here, because I went to prep school, he would always tell me, 'you're not a young guy coming in here, you're not a young guy coming in here. You can't have that mindset, you have to think like you're a veteran'.''
Mike Hull - Linebacker
What's a Penn State key player post without a linebacker featured?
Now that he's finally given a chance to break out, senior linebacker Mike Hull is ready to make an impact during his final year on campus. Although he finished 2013 with only 44 tackles, a move to the middle has our friends at Black Shoe Diary calling Hull the most irreplaceable player on defense.
When Jared first sent out the email to all staff about this series idea and who the most irreplaceable player on defense this fall would be, my response was simple, and succinct: "It's Mike Hull, and it's not even close."
A four star linebacker out of high school (and top ten and top five in his position and in the state of PA as a senior), Hull has been the heir apparent at Linebacker U for a few years now--and hadn't been able to crack the starting lineup until 2013, his redshirt junior season, a testament to the talent in front of him. Last year, he was the second leading tackler on the squad with 78 tackles (4.5 for loss)--despite missing two games due to injury, and playing hampered most of the rest of the year.
A high distinction for someone who has just started to receive steady playing time. However, in Hull's defense, it is Penn State. The linebackers created there are always very talented. Such is the case for Hull, all teams should gameplan for the next linebacker at "Linebacker U."