#36 Penn State Football 2016 Preview

Penn State Nittany Lions
Overall Rank: #36
#7 Big Ten
Following three straight seven win seasons, Penn State is looking to take the next step and seriously compete in the Big Ten East for a division title. That is a tough task with Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State in the same division. Three of the Nittany Lions’ four conference losses came against those three opponents. Penn State will need to beat at least one of them if they have any hope of getting to eight wins.
2015 Record: 7-6, 4-4
2015 Bowl: Taxslayer Bowl vs. Georgia (L 17-24)
Coach: James Franklin (14-12 at Penn State, 38-27 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry, Tim Banks
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Saquon Barkley, RB, 1,076 yards
Passing: Trace McSorley, QB, 185 yards
Receiving: Chris Godwin, WR, 1,101 yards
Tackles: Jason Cabinda, LB, 100
Sacks: Brandon Bell, LB, 5.5
Interceptions: Grant Haley, DB, 2; John Reid, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: WR DaeSean Hamilton, WR Saeed Blacknall, S Marcus Allen, DL Garrett Sickels
Key Losses: QB Christian Hackenberg, RB Akeel Lynch, WR Geno Lewis, DE Carl Nassib, DT Anthony Zettel, DT Austin Johnson, LB Troy Reeder
Penn State is still a strong defensive team and that is where they will be able to keep up with the better teams in the Big Ten. That may only be true if the Nittany Lions can replace Carl Nassib, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. Nassib recorded 15.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles-for-loss during his final season in Happy Valley. Garrett Sickels is the only returning starter on the line, but Torrence Brown gained some valuable experience last season and should start on the other end opposite Sickels. An increased amount of depth across the board is extremely helpful, but that is not the case with the linebackers. Brandon Bell can get into the backfield and Jason Cabinda was the team’s top tackler with 100 last season. The potential return of Nyeem Wartman-White from an injury would give a big boost to the unit, but there is still not much experienced depth. The secondary returns plenty of talent and depth. Starting safeties Marcus Allen and Malik Golden are back and so is cornerback Grant Haley. Look for sophomore John Reid to grab the other cornerback spot. The promising sophomore did earn two starts as a freshman and picked off a couple passes.
The offense was painful to watch at times last season. Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley is loaded with potential though. He rushed for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite Barkley’s great season, Penn State still ranked 105th in the country and 12th in the Big Ten in rushing offense. With questions on the offensive line, Barkley will have to work hard for most of his yards. The passing attack will move on without Christian Hackenberg. Sophomore Trace Sorley will likely step into the starting role. He threw 40 passes last season as Hackenberg’s backup. Sorley will have some impressive targets at wide receiver though. Chris Godwin is back after catching 69 passes for 1,101 yards and five touchdowns. DaeSean Hamilton added 45 receptions for 580 yards and six scores. Junior Saeed Blacknall is due for a breakout season, but the inconsistent passing game from 2015 could be even more inconsistent in 2016.
The Bottom Line:
Outside of a trip to Pittsburgh, Penn State should be able to take care of business in non-conference play. They open Big Ten play with a trip to Michigan though, so there is very little time for Sorley and company to get comfortable with the offense. Both Ohio State and Michigan State do come to University Park though and The Nittany Lions avoid Nebraska and Wisconsin from the West, so the schedule could have been much worse. If all goes right, Penn State could be in for a big season, but the questions on the offensive line means the defense will have to be able to shut down the potent Big Ten ground games.
Projected Bowl: TaxSlayer Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 134.2 (105th in nation, 12th in conference)
Passing Offense: 214.5 (74, 9)
Total Offense: 348.6 (105, 13)
Scoring Offense: 23.2 (101, 11)
Rushing Defense: 151.0 (43, 8)
Pass Defense: 173.5 (8, 3)
Total Defense: 324.5 (14, 5)
Scoring Defense: 21.8 (26, 7)
Turnover Margin: 0.31 (39, 5)
Sacks: 3.54 (1, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 3.00 (111, 14)

Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#20 Miles Sanders
#47 Michal Menet
#60 Shane Simmons
#101 Ellison Jordan
#140 Daniel Joseph
#222 Zechariah McPhearson