Penn State was a primary storyline at Big Ten media days — and most Big Ten players and coaches had their own opinions on the reigning conference champions.
As a result, we polled those same opponents about Penn State's magical 2016 campaign, what changes they've seen in the program and what one thing impresses them the most about the 2017 Nittany Lions. Here's what they had to say:
Q: With 11 wins and a trip to the Rose Bowl, Penn State kind of came out of nowhere last season. Were you surprised to see Penn State break out and do so well in 2016?
Rutgers coach Chris Ash: Yeah, I'll be honest with you, I was. But then after watching their football team and seeing the quarterback perform, you can see why they were able to do that. He's a good player, and I really think he was the difference-maker for them. He's just got something about him. The way he played, I was impressed with him. ... I thought he was one of the biggest X-factors in the season they had last year.
Maryland coach D.J. Durkin: You know, I think it just speak to the depth of this conference. I think it's where we're at. It's the level of play and coaching in this conference. I think it's possible for anyone to go do that sort of thing.
Indiana CB Rashard Fant: You're never surprised because every team in the Big Ten is one or two games away from having a stellar season or having their season be ruined. Last year if you asked about Michigan State, "Oh man, they're about to play for the Big Ten championship, maybe a Rose Bowl," and I think that was a really good team. I thought they'd win more than three games. So, no, I wasn't surprised. (Penn State) had the talent. ... You never know. You just have to focus on you, which is what they did, and keep believing in that talent one game at a time.
Q: Whether it's a player, coach or something else, what's the biggest difference between Penn State now and Penn State just a few years ago?
Maryland LB Jermaine Carter: I think they did a good job coming off of what their situation was. The biggest difference from this past season was their quarterback. (Trace) McSorley, he made a big difference. He can make plays with his feet as well as his arm. When they had Christian Hackenberg, he was a great thrower. But he didn't pose the same threat running the ball. You have (Saquon) Barkley and McSorley in the backfield. You've got to account for both of those guys.
Trace McSorley was calm, cool and collected last year. pic.twitter.com/RbtKlnWWcG— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) July 24, 2017
Iowa WR Matt VandeBerg: The coach has been there a few years now. It's all his people. That's what's been able to make them successful.
Indiana CB Rashard Fant: Just the confidence, and I would have to say smoothness. When Hackenberg was there, they didn't look like they fully had an identity. They were trying to find it still. But now you know who Penn State is and who they want to be. They give it to you full and stick with it no matter what. No matter if they're down by 10 in the fourth quarter or if they're winning. That's what you want.
Q: What's Penn State's biggest strength going into the 2017 season?
Indiana coach Tom Allen: Their quarterback play. You've got a guy like that just -- I mean, he did it in the Big Ten championship game, he did it in the bowl game -- consistently makes plays at critical times. It's pretty special to have. There's no question Barkley is a great player, but that position to me is the position that changes everything. That's why they're going to be a great team this year.
Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst: They're explosive. I mean, they're a good team. They beat us in a big game.
Michigan State OC Brian Allen: I think they're returning their whole team pretty much. A lot of guys with experience there, and young talent on their team. They've been doing so well on the recruiting trail. They're going to have even more new young guys to help them out. Coming off the year they had, I'm sure they have a lot of confidence.
Indiana LB Tegray Scales: They know how to finish. They had a lot of close games and games they had to come back in. They know how to finish. Football is about starting fast and finishing strong, but things do happen early. It's all about finishing.
This article is written by John McGonigal from Centre Daily Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.