The college football season can’t come soon enough. With every season comes new faces and possibilities. Who will be the teams to watch out for this season? This will be the 12th of many posts covering the top 25 teams in the country and will cover no. 14 Penn State Nittany Lions.
James Franklin has totally revamped the Penn State football program. Even though they lost Saquon Barkley to the NFL, they will still be competitive in a very tough Big Ten East. They may not go 11-2 and make a New Year’s Six Bowl, but they should expect to have another solid season.
Last season, the offense was humming. They ranked 7th in scoring, 59th in rushing and 23rd in passing. They may be without Barkley, but have seven returning starters who should be able to make the unit successful.
Trace McSorley is a star at quarterback, but will now have to play in a new system after Joe Moorhead left for Mississippi State. He has plenty of Penn State records and will break more this season. McSorley threw for 3,570 yards, 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 66.5% passing. He added 491 rushing yards and 11 trips to the end zone on the ground. This season, McSorley will have more on his shoulders, but he is one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
DaeSean Hamilton and Mike Gesicki are now in the NFL, but there are still solid pass catchers at Penn State. Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins accounted for over 1,100 receiving yards and four touchdowns and will be more productive with another year’s progression. Behind those two there is some inexperience, but Penn State has recruited well for this situation.
Miles Sanders takes over for Saquon Barkley. Sanders got limited playing time, but also averaged 6.2 yards per carry last season. While he may not be Barkley, Sanders was a great running back in his own right, as he was a highly-valued recruit.
Four starters return on the offensive line, which should be a great unit. Connor McGovern is one of the best centers in the country and will anchor the line once again this season.
They may regress a little bit this season, but the Nittany Lions will definitely not struggle on this side of the football.
Last year, the defense was also great. They ranked seventh in points allowed per game, 14th against the rush and 47th against the pass. The problem for this unit is that three starters return and a lot of new faces will have big roles.
The defensive ends from last season are back. Shareef Miller will lead the pass-rush and had 5.5 sacks last season. Ryan Bucholz is also back, but was less productive. The defensive tackles will both be new, so pressure from the ends will be imperative.
Koa Farmer is back after 47 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss last season. He’ll have to be the leader on the defense because of his experience. Cam Brown has moved from outside to inside linebacker and will be solid there. Highly rated recruit Micah Parsons or Jarvis Miller will get playing time at the third linebacker spot.
The whole secondary from last season is gone. They lost some NFL talent and will need some time to replace it. Amani Oruwariye played the nickel corner position well last season, but now moves to the outside. The other corner will be manned by John Reid, who started in 2016. The safety positions will give the coaches the opportunity to pick young inexperience or older inexperience.
How far will the defense fall from last year? Only time will tell, but a top 10 defense is not in the cards for the Nittany Lions.
The first three weeks of the season, Penn State plays Appalachian State, Pittsburgh and Kent State. All three games should be relatively easy for the Nittany Lions.
The conference schedule is where it gets tough. They do get Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin at home, while they have to go to “The Big House” to play Michigan. The goal is to win them all, but that will be tough to do given the turnover on defense. If they split these for games, they should be extremely happy.
Penn State can win anywhere from eight to 10 games this year, making them right near the range to make a New Year’s Six Bowl.
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