Every day for two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.
Today: Defensive line
The front seven has always been a strength of Penn State, and that continued in 2012. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill started slow, taking some time to adjust to double-teams, but finished strong and earned praise from other conference coaches, such as Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. He was the star of this line and one of the best in the conference.
Speaking of the best, Deion Barnes was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, led the team with six sacks and already has some fans wondering what future round he'll be drafted in. Barnes' emergence really helped boost this line, especially with a spate of injuries to defensive end Pete Massaro.
DaQuan Jones was relatively quiet, but PSU showed it has a lot of depth on the ends. C.J. Olaniyan and Anthony Zettel flashed a lot of potential; Zettel finished with four sacks despite his limited playing time. All in all, this unit was solid and, save for a few hiccups, was one of the best on the team.
NittanyNation rating: B-plus
Season highlight: Nov. 24 vs. Wisconsin. Hill boasted the most dominant performance of any Penn State defensive lineman all season. He finished with a dozen stops, three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Sean Stanley added a sack and also forced a fumble in overtime, which pushed the Badgers back and led to the missed field goal.
As a whole, this line made a statement by limiting Montee Ball to less than 2 yards a carry in the second half.
What was missing at this position?: Better containment on the ends. Whenever opponents had success rushing the ball, it always seemed to come on pitches or runs to the outside. Barnes is the best pass-rusher on the team but needs to improve his run defense. He's not alone, of course, and this is something Penn State will have to focus on in the offseason.