The Penn St football program was a program that was embroiled in a salacious scandal. They had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Well, after former head coach Bill O’Brian saved them from oblivion, enter current head coach James Franklin. Since he took over for the Nittany Lions 4 years ago, he’s gone 36-17 and returned them to the glory years of yore. They are now a national powerhouse who not only are consistently highly ranked in the polls, but also have become a premier recruiting program.
2018 Penn St Nittany Lions Offense
Nittany Lions QB Trace McSorley is the unquestioned leader of the team. He literally holds the entire fate of the offense, and perhaps the team, in his hands. He opened the season as an 18/1 Heisman favorite. That might seem a bit low for a star quarterback of a top tier team that also happens to be the Nittany Lions’ record holder for career TD passes (59), total TDs (77), and total offense (8,268 yards). However, he’s had a certain safety blanket removed (more on that in a bit). Even with new offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne replacing Joe Moorhead, who left to coach Miss St, McSorley should have a monster year.
Gone is the aforementioned safety blanket for McSorley in the form of now current NY Giant Saquon Barkley. Barkley accounted for a whopping 32.8% of the Nittany Lions’ all-purpose yards last year. Replacing that’s not going to be an easy task. RB Miles Sanders did average 6.7 yards/carry on limited touches. In addition to Sanders, Coach Franklin will use stable of RBs, rotating in and out of the line up, until someone establishes themselves as the go-to guy. Curious eyes will be on true freshman Ricky Slade to see if he can live up to his potential. Keep an eye on Journey Brown (great name). He could absolutely sneak in get the (Nittany (hi-yo!)) lion’s share of the carries.
Wide receiver Juwan Johnson will be McSorley’s main target. He’s the team’s leading returning receiver. Gone is behemoth TE and safety valve Mike Gesicki for the NFL’s greener pastures. Replacing him is current behemoth TE, the 6’7″ 238 lbs true freshman Zack Kuntz. Joining him at TE will also be true freshman Pat Freiermuth. What they lack in experience, they will make up for in skill. Also, remember this name: Justin Shorter. Shorter is a blazing fast wide receiver, who has GREAT size (6’4″ 226 lbs), soft hands, and a tremendous ability to adjust to the ball in the air. He’s the fastest guy on the field virtually every time he laces them up. With that size and that speed, he has superstar potential written all over him.
The offensive line returns 4 out of 5 starters. Led by LT Will Fries, that consistency will go a long ways in both protecting McSorley and trying to open up running lanes for the inexperienced RBs. You can have the greatest defense in the world, but if you can’t ever get to the QB, you’re probably going to come out on the losing end. And essentially returning the exact same O-line that steered the offense to 41.1 pts/game last year will help.
2018 Penn St Nittany Lions Defense
D-line and linebackers
This is where the wheels could quickly fall off the bandwagon. The Nittany Lions were an elite defense last year, finishing near the top in most of the major statistical categories. This year? Eh…… Let’s just say it’s going to be difficult. The main reason is that they lost so many guys from last year, especially in the middle. They need to replace their DTs and inside LBs. Back ups Kevin Givens and Robert Windsor will do their best to fill in on the D-line. While LB Koa Farmer is the only returning LB starter from last year. Super recruit Micah Parsons will try a move from DE to LB. We’ll see how that goes.
The Nittany Lions will replace their entire starting secondary. That’s normally not a recipe for success. And it remains to be seen if it will be this year. The good news is they do return DB Amani Oruwariye, who played solid minutes last year, leading the team in interceptions. They’ll also return DB John Reid, who missed all of last year with an injury. Top recruit from 2017 Lamont Wade moved from DB to S and will be a key contributor there.
Potential Impact Newcomer
There are SO many guys to choose from here, thanks to James Franklin’s stellar recruiting class. We’ve mentioned Parsons, Kuntz, Freiermuth, Justin Shorter, and Ricky Slade. But we’re going to go slightly outside the box here with DE Jayson Oweh (he was still a 4-star recruit). Oweh caught our eye at The Opening regional, when we saw him in person. He wasn’t “starred” as one of the top recruits like some of the others. However, we saw someone who had sky high potential. To speak of his athleticism, he was working out as a TE. And he’s only even recently started playing football in high school (he was a basketball star before that). Just so much to like from this kid. Strong work ethic, eager to learn, and loves to grind. Wouldn’t surprise us at all if he made a few plays that turned the tide in a game(s) this year.
Penn St Over/Under Win Total
Vegas set the Nittany Lions’ win total at 9.5. We wanted so badly to fade that number, especially with the hype that’s surrounded the program in recent years. In addition, they’re rebuilding the center of their defense, and will have to lean heavily on the offense. An offense that lost Saquon Barkley, mind you. However, when we looked at the schedule, it gave us pause.
Virtually all of their “tough” games will be a home. And Happy Valley isn’t really a place that teams tend to waltz into and waltz out of with a W. Especially during a white out. Let’s assume wins over App St, at Pittsburgh, Kent St, at Illinois, at Indiana, at Rutgers, and Maryland. That’s 6 wins. Out of the remaining games, Ohio St, Michigan St, Iowa, and Wisconsin are in Happy Valley. Only Michigan is on the road. Out of those 6, can they win 4 for the over to hit? As much as we didn’t want to say yes, that’s exactly what we’re going to say is going to happen.
The Wrap Up
The bottom line is that the skies are ultra bright for Penn St. The Nittany Lions are in the best place they’ve been in years. Perennially, they are a top ranked program. On the Croot Trail, they are consistently adding top flight talent year after year. Head coach James Franklin has this program soaring in the right direction. Could they hit a bump this year? Absolutely. In fact, they’re going to have to rely heavily on their offense, and just try and outscore most teams (READ: bet the over). But with all of these Ws and top recruits on the horizon, they’re putting the Happy in Happy Valley.