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Jason Cabinda, shown tackling Wisconsin's Bradrick Shaw in the Big Ten championship game, is one of Penn State's few returning linebackers.

Penn State might need 4-star LB Ellis Brooks right away, hockey team drops to 6th in poll and more

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This is your Penn State Wake-Up Call for Tuesday, Jan. 31. Let’s get started.

Can Brooks crack the depth chart?

The commitment of 4-star linebacker Ellis Brooks to Penn State on Monday is important for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is this: He might have to play right away.

The School Formerly Known as Linebacker U. is woefully thin at that position heading into spring practice. Only five of the eight guys listed on the pre-Rose Bowl depth chart return: Jason Cabinda and Brandon Smith, the top two guys in the middle; Manny Bowen, the top guy on the strong side and the primary backup on the weak side; Koa Farmer, the second-stringer on the strong side; and Cam Brown, the third-stringer on the weak side.

(And yes, we all remember that Bowen was held out of the game, as was wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, for a violation of team rules. And that the ESPN broadcast crew said on that air that it was an academic issue.)

Beyond that, Penn State is down to Jake Cooper, Jason Vranic and Jan Johnson, three guys who missed all or part of the 2016 season because of injuries.

That means there is at least some possibility that Brooks, an inside linebacker from Richmond, Va., will crack the three-deep. Ditto for Brelin Faison-Walden, an early enrollee who is the only other linebacker in this recruiting class.

Coach James Franklin would probably not prefer it that way. If he had his druthers, he would redshirt both of them. More often than not, that is the most sensible course for newcomers. But circumstances might dictate otherwise, especially if the linebacker corps is struck by as many injuries as it was this past season.

For now, figure that the opening-week lineup this fall will consist of Cabinda in the middle, Smith or Cooper on the weak side and Bowen on the strong side — assuming he is back in the good graces of the coaching staff. The backups would then be Cooper or Smith, Brown and Farmer.

Still, there would appear to be room on the third string for the newcomers. Or possibly something more.

Hockey team falls to sixth

PSU’s hockey team, No. 1 in the USCHO rankings as recently as two weeks ago, fell to No. 6 after losing 5-4 to Princeton on Saturday in Philadelphia, running its winless streak to three.

The Lions (16-4-2) enter a critical part of their schedule, as noted by Ben Jones of Eight of their remaining 12 games are against ranked teams, beginning this weekend at No. 7 Minnesota, and continuing the following weekend at No. 18 Wisconsin.

Three PSU players – freshman goalie Peyton Jones, freshman forward Denis Smirnov and sophomore forward Andrew Sturtz – were also nominated Monday for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, presented each year to the nation’s top college player.

Phase 1 of fan voting began Monday, and runs through March 5. You can vote here.

Hoops team seeks consistency

Although the Penn State men’s basketball team snapped a three-game losing streak with 71-67 victory over Illinois on Saturday, the Illini cut a 20-point halftime deficit to three late in the game before the Lions (12-10) held on.

Such uneven play is of great concern to coach Pat Chambers, who said the following, per the Daily Collegian:

“We have to learn to play 40 minutes in the Big Ten. Right now, we’re good 20 or 25 minutes, but we have to learn how to play all 40.”

Penn State continues it season Wednesday at Indiana.

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