The 2013 season is six months away. Let's punch fate in the face and make wild assumptions about what could be the best 20 teams in the country next year.
Team: Penn State
Important People: Austin Kaut (G); Jack Forster (A); Shane Sturgis (A); Kessler Brown (D)
Formerly Important People: Matt Mackrides (A); Ryan McGarvey (D); Ryan Link (M)
Final 2012 Poll Positions: Media: 15; Coaches: 14
2012 Record: 9-6 (5-1, THUNDERDOME!)
2012 Snapshot: Lookin' good, doll!
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Even with Mackrides hammering the brick for Penn State last season, the Nittany Lions offense was . . . what's the word I'm looking for? . . . oh, yeah: prettyfreaking"meh." Jeff Tambroni has overseen, the last two years, an offense that has ranked 32nd (2011) and 36th (2012) in adjusted offensive efficiency. With Mackrides off to the real world (to presumably discover the wonders of telephone taxes that you didn't even know existed), Penn State loses what was the heart of their offense. Shane Sturgis and Jack Forster return in 2013, but Sturgis' development appeared to stall in 2012 from a nice freshman campaign a year prior; Forster, while healthy throughout 2012 with strong production, is still a cat that lost two seasons to injury and his velocity for his fifth year in 2013 isn't exactly rock-solid. This is an offense that needs to get more production out of its midfield -- a unit that featured only one contributor that generated at least 20 points last year (Nick Dolik) -- while also trying to find some semblance of shooting accuracy. The Nittany Lions have struggled to make the scoreboard blink in an efficient manner over the last two seasons, and if more playmakers fail to emerge in the void left by Mackrides, Penn State is going to be forced -- once again -- to try and squeeze out 6-4 snoozers over a dozen or so games. That isn't necessarily an NCAA Tournament-type attribute.
A Thousand White Doves
Austin Kaut is the blonde satan for a reason: Not only is he a horse in the net, he's arguably the most important piece to Penn State's defensive puzzle. When you have a keeper of Kaut's ability (especially how he changes the momentum of play), you're always going to be a competitive position regardless of other circumstances. Kaut anchors what was one of the stronger defensive units in the nation in 2012, and while that unit will lose McGarvey and Link for 2013, Kaut's steadiness in the cage -- along with Brown's and Jack Donnelly's ability in front of him -- should provide stabilization to a unit that is going to go through a bit of personnel change in 2013. It's the defense, man, that's going to push the Nittany Lions towards a potential NCAA Tournament invitation next season; Kaut's the navigator for that journey.