So I see Penn State cracked the top 15 in Phil Steele's preseason top 40. What's your interpretation of that potential? How good can Penn State be?
It purely is based on potential, I don't know that anyone can argue that. I'm anticipating a roughly 9-3 or 8-4 regular season, and with a bowl win, top 20 is not as crazy as it might otherwise seem--top 25 teams frequently finish the schedule with 3 or 4 losses. Couple that with the notion that one or two of those tough breaks might go Penn State's way this year, and Franklin's team could surprise some folks now that they're eligible to be ranked.
Has Coach Franklin made any changes to his core staff that might lead to some improvement in some of the units on either side of the ball, or will things stay the same scheme-wise?
There have been no staffing changes this offseason, but that actually could be a very good thing for a team that last year played under its fifth defensive coordinator in four seasons, and third offensive. The players will undoubtedly appreciate the consistency, especially given their youth and inexperience in 2014 (they were the 2nd youngest team in the FBS last season) and the coaches will be able to expand the playbook immensely.
There have also been a lot of calls for offensive coordinator John Donovan's head after the abysmal performance of that unit last year, and 2015 will do a lot to either quell or stoke those fires. With the talent on the offensive side of the ball, PSU fans will only have so much patience for mediocre playcalling.
What's the impression Nittany Lions fans get of Jim Harbaugh and how's it going to feel for the program to face him for the first time in Happy Valley?
Honestly, I haven't spoken to too many who have given his hiring a ton of thought. Generally, though, a good Michigan program is great for the Big Ten and thus, by extension, Penn State, so I really hope Harbaugh brings Michigan back up from where Hoke left it. The Wolverines deserve better than where they've been, and if the consensus is that Harbaugh's the guy to bring UM back to prominence and try to take the mantle back from Ohio State and "little brother" MSU, it should be fun to watch.
Who stood out during Penn State's spring game that was under the radar? Anyone disappoint? Which guys are going to help Christian Hackenberg the most in his junior year?
The spring game always seems to be a showcase for a player or two that we'll never hear from again--quarterback Paul Jones was the star for two years running and barely played a down at that position for Penn State before transferring down to a lower division. Going into the spring game, I was looking forward to seeing the progress of the backup quarterbacks but due to injuries Hack ended up playing most of the game, so my star has got to be kicker Joe Julius, who looks to be replacing Sam Ficken this year. Who doesn't love a fat kicker?
As for Hack's weapons, we're excited to see TE Adam Breneman back from injury this year--he redshirted in 2014. Our TE group is deep and talented, and hopefully Donovan will use them well. RB Akeel Lynch has long been the most talented true half back on the team, and he's finally on top of the depth chart. Lastly, DaeSean Hamilton returns after his breakout 2014 (and fighting injury the latter half of the year) and he'll anchor a really deep and talented group of wideouts--the receivers are so talented, including the incoming freshmen, you could literally pick any of them and I wouldn't be surprised if any of Geno Lewis, Chris Godwin, Saeed Blacknall, or someone I didn't even mention is our leading receivers in 2015.
What's Hackenberg's ceiling this year because he started to show some progress in some games last year.
His ceiling is the #1 pick in the 2016 draft. No pressure, Hack.
Beer question: What local brew are ya keeping in the fridge as we make the final push to September?
I always have Yeungling's Black and Tan in my fridge, but if you're in State College, you have to go to Otto's--literally every beer they brew is amazing. I'm a porter and stout kind of girl myself, but even I'll drink their wheat beers.
Many thanks, Cari!