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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Penn State

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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Penn State

BY JEFF SLADE 

As football season inches closer, we take a look at the early preseason previews of every team for the 2015 Big Ten Season, ranking numbers 14 through one until we finally hit September 3rd. 

<<<CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE 2015 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS>>> 

2014 Record: 7-6 (2-6) 

Key games: at Maryland, Michigan, at Michigan State   

Players to watch:  QB Christian Hackenberg, DT Anthony Zettel, entire OL

Overview:  

James Franklin is only entering his second season in Happy Valley; he’s already facing higher expectations.

His inaugural year as head coach had its ups and downs. The team finished with a winning record of 7-6, but 2-6 in the conference left much to be desired for Nittany Lions fans. 

They opened the year with four straight victories that began the James Franklin era with optimism. However, a blowout loss at home to Northwestern reminded Franklin there was still plenty of room for improvement. The next three games would go on to define the season, dropping consecutive heartbreakers to Michigan, Ohio State, and Maryland.

The signs were there, though, and most wouldn’t have expected any better in Franklin’s first year. But, improvement will without a doubt be awaited; and expected. The 2015 schedule provides a prime opportunity, as the Nittany Lions face a fairly easy slate of non-conference games. 

Despite a tricky opener at an underrated Temple team, Penn State will head in favorites to that and other non-conference contests against Buffalo, San Diego State, and Army. They also find a favorable draw from the other side of the Big Ten, against Illinois and Northwestern from the West division. 

This is especially good news with the daunting Big Ten East looming on the horizon. They’ll travel to Ohio State, Maryland, and Michigan State while welcoming to Happy Valley Rutgers, Indiana, and Michigan. The Nittany Lions will look for revenge against Maryland and Michigan, in what should be two pivotal games for the season. 

On offense, most of the conversation will center on quarterback Christian Hackenberg, unquestionably one of the most talented players in the conference and nation alike. However, as last season showed, a quarterback can only succeed so much without a competent offensive line to protect him. 

In 2014, and young and inexperienced offensive line for Penn State can only be described as a disaster. Hackenberg was sacked a Big Ten high 44 times last year, seven more than any other team and 33 more than conference best Michigan State. The struggles continued just as much in the running game, allowing the fourth-most run stuffs in the backfield nationwide. 

Luckily, the offensive line should be improved in 2015, with a year of experience under their belts and the addition of JUCO offensive tackle Paris Palmer. They will almost assuredly be better this year than last. The important question will be just how much? 

If they do improve in the trenches, Hackenberg will find a multitude of playmakers to move the ball down the field. Wide receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis provide a proficient combination catching the ball, while junior running back Akeel Lynch will be a steady presence in the backfield. There’s also the inclusion of true freshman Saquon Barkley, a running back possessing big-play ability and already drawing high praise in the offseason. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Penn State should once again feature an extremely stout unit that ranked top-10 nationally a year ago. 

The defense line should again be dynamic, with defensive tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson leading the charge in the trenches. There’ll be some new faces on the outside, but there’s high hope sophomore Garret Sickles and senior Carl Nassib can fill the void. 

And, though they lose star linebacker Mike Hull, they return every other player to maintain a deep and talented linebacker corps. 

Finally there’s the secondary, which also returns three starters in what was a strong group last season. Safeties Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen will head the way, giving Penn State a fail-safe to rely upon in the back of the field. 

All in all – the defense should be fantastic. 

And, if the offense can improve greatly or even just slightly, Penn State will no longer be an up and coming program – they’ll be here. 

Prediction: 9-4 (4-4); fourth in Big Ten East   

<<<CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE 2015 BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS>>> 

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Huerter, the newest Hawk, introduced in Atlanta

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USA TODAY Sports

Huerter, the newest Hawk, introduced in Atlanta

It was just months ago that Maryland sophomore Kevin Huerter was a sure lock to return for the 2018-2019 season in College Park. 

At some point during the offseason, the 19-year-old changed his mind and decided to test his luck and enter the 2018 NBA Draft. 

After a solid performance at the Combine, Huerter began to soar up draft projection boards. 

Fast forward to the night of the Draft on June 21 from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

The Clifton Park, N.Y. native declined an invite to instead be with his family, friends and former teammates at a local country club. 

After watching 18 players get their names called by Commisioner Adam Silver, this happened: 

This viral video had the 518 (Albany, N.Y. area code) basketball community buzzing about the kid who brought Shenendehowa High School its first state championship since 1987. 

Huerter enjoyed outreach from many different names throughout the sports community: 

On Monday, Huerter was officially introduced as the newest Atlanta Hawk. His father, Tom Huerter, documented part of the special day on Twitter: 

In other news, if you don't see Kevin Huerter in Summer League, don't worry. Earlier this month, Huerter learned he needed to repair torn ligaments in his right shooting hand in order to be fully ready for the start of camp. 

Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk expressed his confidence in a full recovery for Huerter during the introductory press conference Monday. 

Clearly the organization is in the middle of a massive rebuild, and it's hoping that newcomers Kevin Huerter, Trae Young and Omari Spellman will be at the center of it. 

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NBA Draft 2018: Maryland basketball's Justin Jackson drafted by Nuggets, traded to Magic

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USA Today Sports

NBA Draft 2018: Maryland basketball's Justin Jackson drafted by Nuggets, traded to Magic

Maryland basketball had two players drafted in one night for the second time in three years Thursday night when the Denver Nuggets picked Justin Jackson with the No. 43 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Jackson was subsequently traded to the Orlando Magic as part of a deal that brought the No. 41 overall pick, Kentucky's Jarred Vanderbilt, to Denver.

After his freshman season, in which he averaged 10.5 points and six rebounds a game while shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the arc, Jackson declared for the draft without an agent, but elected to return to Maryland for his sophomore season. But he'd play just 11 games before being shutdown for the year with a torn labrum. His draft stock was hurt, but obviously not totally erased.

He had surgery in January and ended up being the first Terp to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft back in March. Though Jackson's recovery kept him out of the NBA Combine, teams were still intrigued by what they'd seen from him in the past to be willing to take a flyer.

A 6-foot-7 forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Jackson has the skill to play anywhere between the two or the four in the NBA, and the length to guard all kinds of players.

With Kevin Huerter headed to the last-place Atlanta Hawks, Maryland basketball's two draftees are slated to join last season's two worst teams in the Eastern Conference.