UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's one day closer to kickoff in Beaver Stadium, with Penn State Football set to welcome Akron to Happy Valley Saturday.
Ahead of the 2017 season opener, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin has released the first depth chart of the year.
Penn State's first depth chart features a wealth of experience and depth, even including a few new faces, who will look to make an impact with each opportunity presented.
The Nittany Lions return nearly all of the pieces responsible for powering one of the most high-octane offenses in recent history. Following a standout season as the newest Nittany Lion signal caller, Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley returns for another season atop the depth chart, throwing for a record 3,614 yards in 2016.
McSorley's options are stacked with potential, including a pair of preseason All-Americans in running back Saquon Barkley and tight end Mike Gesicki, both listed atop the depth chart, dotting the 2016 with game-changing moments and pure playmaking ability.
Mark Allen and Andre Robinson also return to the running back unit behind Barkley, rounded out by Miles Sanders, who is also listed at the top spot for the Nittany Lions on kickoff returns. Sanders set the single-season record with 33 kick returns in 2016, listed ahead of Polk and Barkley to round out the group at kickoff return. Allen played in 13 games with two touchdowns in 2013, while Robinson played in 12 games in his redshirt freshman season, totaling six touchdowns, including five rushing and one receiving.
At the tight end position, Jonathan Holland is listed behind Gesicki, coming off of a standout spring season. He's joined by Nick Bowers and Tom Pancoast.
Penn State's offensive line features no shortage of experience with a combined 59 career starts between veteran right guard Brendan Mahon and right tackle Andrew Nelson. Mahon is listed atop the depth chart at right guard with Chasz Wright listed alongside Nelson at right tackle.
Since Franklin's spring ball announcement, Connor McGovern will continue to lead the Nittany Lions in the middle, having made nine starts at right guard in his true freshman season last year.
Ryan Bates is listed first on the depth chart at left tackle, ahead of Will Fries and Sterling Jenkins. At left guard, Steven Gonzalez moves to the top position in front of newcomers Mike Miranda (early enrollee) and C.J. Thorpe. Both Miranda and Thorpe are among eight true freshman to appear on the first release of the depth chart.
Yet another veteran group highlight's McSorley's prime potential targets at wide receiver with Juwan Johnson (X), DaeSean Hamilton (H) and DeAndre Thompkins (Z) all topping the depth chart. Penn State has even more potential with returners in Irvin Charles, Brandon Polk and Saeed Blacknall also in the second spot. Both Mac Hippenhammer (Z) and KJ Hamler (H) are also listed in the three-deep as true freshmen.
Having to reload along the defensive line is nothing new for the Nittany Lions as Sean Spencer's Wild Dogs include the (Curtis) Cothran and (Parker) Cothren duo at defensive tackle, with Shareef Miller and Torrence Brown securing a pair of top defensive end spots left open by NFL departures from Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. At defensive end, Spencer's precise rotation could also include upperclassmen in Ryan Buchholz and Colin Castagna, with Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons listed right behind the two, coming off of a pair of productive offseasons. Both Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor are listed behind Cothran and Cothren at defensive tackle with a combination of Ellison Jordan or Antonio Shelton and Robert Windsor and Tyrell Chavis listed at the third spot at defensive tackle.
Even with the NFL departures, the Nittany Lions return more than half of its sack production in 2017, coming off of Penn State's first back-to-back 40-sack season since it recorded three straight from 2005-07. Givens is currently atop the returners with 4.5 sacks in 2016.
Jason Cabinda will lead the linebackers once again from the middle linebacker spot, with Brandon Smith and Jake Cooper behind him on the depth chart.
Manny Bowen is listed atop the depth chart at Will linebacker with Koa Farmer taking the top spot at Sam linebacker. Coming off of solid season making the transition to linebacker, Farmer made significant progress in the offseason, with Bowen bringing tremendous experience, playing in 13 games last year, including 12 starts at Will linebacker.
In the secondary, Marcus Allen will lead the unit as Penn State's top free safety, with veteran captain Nick Scott behind him on the depth chart. Opposite Allen is senior Troy Apke at the top spot as Penn State's strong safety, ahead of Ayron Monroe and Garrett Taylor. All three had tremendous offseasons with Taylor earning the training camp takeaway king honor earlier this week.
Veteran leader Grant Haley will also lead for the Nittany Lions at field cornerback. In his final season in the Blue and White, Haley is ahead of Amani Oruwariye and Zech McPhearson. A few new faces are behind senior Christian Campbell at boundary cornerback. Garnering a significant amount of buzz in training camp, true freshmen Tariq Castro-Fields and Lamont Wade are both listed behind Campbell.
There's hardly a surprise on special teams with true sophomore Blake Gillikin and fifth-year senior Tyler Davis handling punting and kicking responsibilities. Alex Barbir is listed behind Davis at kicker, with Daniel Pasquariello behind Gillikin.
Filling departures left behind from graduation, backup quarterback Billy Fessler will take on holding responsibilities ahead of Pasquariello and Gillikin, with Kyle Vasey listed as Penn State's top long snapper, ahead of Jan Johnson and true freshman Joe Calcagno.
On the punt return, Thompkins is atop the depth chart ahead of Allen and fifth-year senior and newly converted running back Josh McPhearson.
No. 6 Penn State and Akron are set to meet Saturday at noon in Beaver Stadium, with the matchup airing live on ABC.