#8 Penn State Football 2017 Preview


Penn State Nittany Lions


Overall Rank: #8

#2 Big Ten

Penn State took a little while to get rolling in 2016 as they had their fair share of injuries on the defensive side of the ball and started the season 2-2. Fast forward to October 22, 2016 as Penn State sent their 2016 season into another stratosphere, upsetting Ohio State 24-21 in what was a total team effort in all three phases to beat the Buckeyes. After winning the Big Ten Championship game over Wisconsin, Penn State was sent to the Rose Bowl to face USC in what was a classic shootout that the Trojans won 52-49. Now, the question is how will the Nittany Lions respond to having a target on their back as the defending Big Ten Champion and college football playoff contender?
2016 Record: 11-3. 8-1
2016 Bowl: Rose Bowl vs. USC (L 49-52)
Coach: James Franklin (25-15 at Penn State, 49-30 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorehead
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Saquon Barkley, RB, 1,496 yards
Passing: Trace McSorley, QB, 3,614 yards
Receiving: Mike Gesicki, TE, 679 yards
Tackles: Marcus Allen, FS, 110
Sacks: Kevin Givens, DT, 4.5
Interceptions: Brandon Smith, ILB, 2
Other Key Returnees:  WR DeAndre Thompkins, WR Saeed Blacknall, WR DaeSean Hamilton, LT Brendan Mahon, LG Ryan Bates, C Connor McGovern, RT Andre Nelson, DT Parker Cothren, DT Curtis Cothran, OLB Manny Bowen, ILB Jason Cabinda, OLB Cam Brown, CB Grant Haley, SS Troy Apke, SS Ayron Monroe, K Tyler Davis, P Blake Gillikin
Key Losses:  WR Chris Godwin, LB Brandon Bell, DE Garrett Sickels, S Malik Golden, DE Evan Schwan
Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley form a dynamic 1-2 punch at quarterback and running back for the Penn State offense that will need to continue to be very explosive in 2017. McSorley did an excellent job of getting big chunk plays in the passing game as he averaged 16.1 yards per completion last season to lead the nation. In addition, McSorley took care of the football at a high level and threw 29 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Barkley should be a Heisman Trophy finalist if he performs like he did in 2016 where he just missed breaking the 1,500 yard mark running the football. Mike Gesicki is a reliable pass catching tight end that will create plenty of matchup problems for opposing defenses all season long. The trio of DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall, and DeSean Hamilton should more than make up for the loss of Chris Godwin to the NFL Draft last spring. The offensive line play should continue to improve as their finally is enough depth to compete at an elite level after the NCAA sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Jason Cabinda is going to lead a defensive unit that has some to work to do in order to become a dominant unit. The Nittany Lions allowed over 25 points per game and Sam Darnold shredded the secondary in the Rose Bowl by throwing for 453 yards and five touchdown passes. Improved health is going to go a long way towards improving this Penn State defense especially with the loss of cornerback John Reid to a knee injury that could cost him several games. Free Safety Marcus Allen’s decision to not enter to the NFL Draft will help the secondary. Allen is the leading returning tackler with 110 tackles last season. Defensive line will be a fascinating position group to watch. Parker Cothren and Curtis Cothran will anchor the middle and it will be up to guys like Shareef Miler and Torrence Brown to create pressure off the edge.
The Bottom Line:
A fast start should happen for the Nittany Lions in 2017 as they open with three straight home games against Akron, Pittsburgh, and Georgia State. The Big Ten schedule has some landmines on the road in 2017 with trips to Iowa, Northwestern, and Ohio State. If Penn State can knock off Iowa and Northwestern, they should be undefeated heading into a rematch with Michigan on October 21st. Ohio State will be patiently waiting on the Nittany Lions on October 28th as the Buckeyes will be out for revenge after losing in Happy Valley last October. Bottom line, Penn State will not have enough defensively to beat Ohio State and they will likely lose one more road game against one of their crossover opponents and finish 10-2 this season.
Projected Bowl: Fiesta Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 171.9 (66th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 260.7 (36, 3)
Total Offense: 432.6 (49, 2)
Scoring Offense: 37.6 (21, 3)
Rushing Defense: 151.3 (48, 8)
Pass Defense: 216.6 (50, 11)
Total Defense: 367.9 (37, 8)
Scoring Defense: 25.4 (47,8)
Turnover Margin: 0.07 (64, 8)
Sacks: 2.86 (19, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.71 (41, 5)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#3 Saquon Barkley
#27 Marcus Allen
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#36      Lamont Wade
#83      C.J. Thorpe
#86      Sean Clifford 
#186    Yetur Gross-Matos
#189    Fred Hansard
#242    Ellis Brooks