The Nittany Lions are only a handful of sessions in to summer workouts. Most of the true freshman class won't arrive on campus until late June. And, while we hate to bring it up, most players can still transfer out of the program without penalty until preseason camp starts in late July.
And then, obviously, second-year coach Bill O'Brien's team must go through that camp.
So a lot can happen between now and Aug. 31. But that's not stopping us from taking a stab at naming the Nittany Lion first-teamers for the showdown with the Orange. Note that we say first-teamers here, as opposed to starters.
We do so because there is an important distinction. At Penn State these days -- and in the past, as well -- the two terms are not necessarily interchangeable. Last year, for instance, there was one standout player who ran with the first team but only made two starts. He won first-team All-Big Ten notice.
Have you guessed who it was yet?
That's right, tight end Kyle Carter, who finished second on the team with 36 catches for 453 yards, started only twice.
So in this series, where we go from position to position breaking down our projected first-teamers, there are more than 22 position players listed. On offense, for example, we will list two tight ends (because PSU has two different TE positions) and three wideouts (because there are three WR spots).
In instances where we project multiple first-teamers where there are fewer fixed positions, we will list our projected starters followed by other likely first-teamers in italics. At safety, for example, we believe three players will man the two spots, so we'll list two normally and the third in italics.
With that said, we begin the series with the secondary.
Despite losing veteran corner Stephon Morris to graduation, the Nittany Lions appear to be in much better shape here now than a year ago. Trevor Williams and Malik Golden were brought over from offense to add more athletic ability to the ranks, and Jordan Lucas has elevated his game after spending his rookie year as a deep reserve and special-teams regular.
The lynchpin to everything here is Adrian Amos, the best DB on the team and one of the best in the Big Ten. A natural safety (albeit one with 4.45 40-speed), he was forced to start every game at the corner spot opposite Morris last season because nobody else had the talent and/or experience to do it.
Amos spent nearly the entire spring at safety, allowing Lucas, Williams and fellow sophomore Da'Quan Davis to log the vast majority of first-team CB reps. The trio (especially Lucas and Williams) played well enough that we're expecting Amos to remain at safety in the fall.
If that is the case, he'll join returning starters Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong to form what should be Penn State's best safety rotation in years -- perhaps since 2005 (a unit led by Chris Harrell and Calvin Lowry). That should lead to fresher legs and more big plays. Neither Willis nor Obeng registered an interception last season.
Obeng was held out of contact in the spring while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery but is expected to be 100 percent by the time preseason camp starts.
Finally, redshirt junior Ryan Keiser saw plenty of first-team work in the spring. We can't see him unseating any of the big three. But we can see him earning occasional spot action with the first team.
Back to corner, Davis really had his hands full as the third man at the position last season. He is generously listed at 5-foot-10, 164. We really wonder if he has the size to be an every-down player. So we see him maintaining his role as the third CB this season.
Lucas and Williams are different stories. The former is 6-0, 185, the latter 6-1, 180. Both are legit 4.5 40 guys with good DB instincts. And they will only get stronger the longer they are in the program.
If Lucas and Williams do grab the starting jobs, expect them to experience some growing pains. But also expect them to get better and better as the season goes along.
S: Adrian Amos, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong
S: Malcolm Willis, Ryan Keiser
CB: Jordan Lucas
CB: Trevor Williams, Da'Quan Davis