Of all the numbers that will determine the fates of the Penn State football team for this year and in the crucial years to come, the number six might be the most important.
From left, Smith, Barnes, Amos, Robinson, Belton and Carter will play big roles for Penn State this fall.
As in, SupaSix.
The SupaSix is a group of six sophomores -- defensive back Adrian Amos, defensive end Deion Barnes, running back Bill Belton, tight end Kyle Carter, wide receiver Allen Robinson and offensive tackle Donovan Smith -- who, in slightly more than a year with the team, have formed a strong bond on and off the field.
When all is said and done, they could be the cornerstone of the class that kept the program together.
Ask around and those on and around the team will tell you that it was the Mikes -- seniors Zordich and Mauti -- who galvanized the Nittany Lions in the uncertain days after the NCAA sanctions were delivered. There is no denying that these two players are the heart of the team, and that seniors like Gerald Hodges, Pete Massaro, Jordan Hill, Matt McGloin and Stephon Morris will be just as relied upon for their play and their leadership if Penn State is going to have successful 2012 campaign.
But the senior class can't do it alone this season, and they won't be able to lead at all once the calendar hits 2013. Penn State's junior class has been gutted by transfers and injuries -- just nine of the original 20 signees in the Class of 2010 remain with the squad. Some of the 18 true freshmen will wind up playing substantial roles this season, but it's the guys in the Class of 2011 -- a dozen of whom are on scholarship -- that must produce for the Nittany Lions to operate at full capacity.
The SupaSix will enter the season in great spots. Amos, Belton, Robinson and Smith will start, all at key positions. Barnes and Carter who, like Smith, redshirted last season, figure to see plenty of snaps. All six are positioned to become multi-year starters, the linchpins that Bill O'Brien can build the rest of his team around after Mauti, Hodges and the other seniors depart.
And Penn State's new coach won't mind if the sophomores help out his seniors in the leadership department even sooner.
"Anytime you’re a younger player, if you’re a good player, and you’re out there on the field and you’re making plays, you have a chance to be a leader on the team," O'Brien said Thursday. "Not just vocally, just as a guy who can set examples for how to go out there and play good football."
Beyond the stadium and the practice fields, though, is where the SupaSix might have the greatest impact. As has been written here and in various other places since late July, Penn State's football future will depend on the relationships forged between the players. The Nittany Lions won't be playing for Big Ten championships or sunny New Year's Day bowl destinations for the next few seasons -- they'll be playing for their coaches, their hordes of fans and, mostly, for each other. O'Brien and his assistant coaches will need to lure top recruits to State College by giving them the feeling that they have the chance to join something special, something bigger than themselves. That feeling is part of what drew many of the current Nittany Lions, in each of the respective recruiting classes, to this team and this school. It's a feeling that some lost during the past several months.
Mauti, Hodges, Zordich and the other seniors will ensure that Penn State has no shortage of that feeling this season. After that, it will be the SupaSix's turn. Watching both groups on the field at the same time should be something to look forward to.