Looking ahead: Running backs

In the next week, NittanyNation will be taking a glance at different positions and their outlook for next season.

  • Who: Zach Zwinak, the quiet redhead who was almost never tackled in the backfield, returns and could be among the best backs in the Big Ten. He's not the fastest or most agile tailback but, at 232 pounds, he wreaked havoc on the interior and wore down defenses for four quarters. Bill Belton will take a back seat to Zwinak, and he could have competition as a change-of-pace guy. Rising redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch has already earned praise from Bill O'Brien, and early enrollee Richy Anderson could also see some time on the field.

  • Strengths: There's still a good mix here between power (Zwinak) and speed (Belton, Lynch) -- so O'Brien has a lot of options here. Zwinak also became more involved with the passing game and Belton is a former wideout, so this group can threaten in different ways. And Zwinak is just plain hard to bring down.

  • Weaknesses: Before the 2012 season, O'Brien expected Belton to handle 20-25 carries a game. Then he became injured and seemed to lack focus and, at times, speed for the rest of the season. Belton is still a wild card and -- with the departures of Curtis Dukes, Derek Day and Michael Zordich -- PSU needs to find a dependable backup. There's not as much depth here as there was last season, and that means trouble if Zwinak can't stay healthy.

  • Surprise player: Lynch. ESPN's scouts called him a "potential sleeper" at this time last year, and he'll definitely be given opportunities in 2013. He's a balanced guy who can reach top speed quickly, and this season could be his coming-out party. He's definitely a player to watch in the spring.

  • Overall: As long as Zwinak stays healthy, this position should be stronger than last season. Sure, there is less depth, but Dukes and Day didn't play big roles in the offense. Zordich's loss hurts, but if that means a few more carries for Zwinak, Penn State should be just fine. Another offseason with Charles London can only help Zwinak, and the combination of Lynch-Belton will offer defenses plenty of different looks.