Penn State was “only” 9-4 last year, but the CSD Prime model still landed them in the top ten in the country last year, although it should be mentioned non-CFP bowl games don’t count for the model. Three of the four losses were by four points or fewer though, so Penn State was better than that record indicated either way.
It was a step down from back-to-back 11 win seasons, but still, a lot better than Penn State had done pre-James Franklin. Now, with Miles Sanders and Trace McSorley gone, Franklin has to try and rely on his defense to avoid a further slide.
The recruiting Franklin has done in recent years has paid off with a pair of blue-chip sophomores coming in to replace last year’s QB/RB duo in QB Sean Clifford and RB Ricky Slade (5.7 YPA as a freshman!). The receiving corps is chock full of highly touted sophomores as well, which could be seen as a bad thing, but these guys are young and proven, the best combination. Be it KJ Hammler (18.0 YPC, five touchdowns) or Pat Freirmuth (14.2 YPC, eight touchdowns), there is talent throughout the group.
The line should be solid with three starters back, and while I love the talent of the receiving corps and the potential at the QB and RB spots, Clifford is still an unproven commodity, and it feels unlikely to me that he can fill Trace McSorley’s shoes in year one as a starter, so I’ll predict a step back for the second year in a row.
On defense, the Nittany Lions did a great job getting after the quarterback last year, and they get back their chief guy in the pass rush, end Yetur Gross-Matos (eight sacks, 12 TFL).
In the linebacking corps, former five star Micah Parsons is back at the will spot after showing flashes as a backup as a freshman, and the other two starters around him return. The secondary loses some good pieces in Amani Oruwaeriye and Nick Scott, but CB John Reid returns from injury and the rest of the two-deep is back outside of the two mentioned. I think this defense keeps up it’s pass rush prowess and improves in run defense, meaning all they have to do is stay level in the secondary to improve.
With Idaho, Buffalo, and Pitt in the non-conference, the schedule is silky smooth for Penn State. The Nittany Lions do get 2/3 top teams in the East on the road and draw @ Iowa from the West, but I think this team has a good shot at getting back to ten wins and very well could be a playoff darkhorse should some of the new faces show out.
|at michigan state
|at ohio state
Average Projected Record: 8.8 wins, 3.2 losses (6.0 wins, 3.0 losses)