#8 Penn State Football 2020 Preview

Penn State Nittany Lions
Overall Rank: #8
#2 Big Ten
 Penn State Logo
Penn State was once again one of the best teams in the Big Ten, but losses at Minnesota and Ohio State kept the Nittany Lions out of the conference title game. They still were able to earn a spot in the Cotton Bowl, where they dropped 53 points on Memphis. Overall it was a very good season, but Coach James Franklin will be looking to get past Michigan and Ohio State this year and return to the Big Ten title game for the first time since 2016.
2019 Record: 11-2, 7-2
2019 Bowl: Cotton Bowl vs. Memphis (W 53-39)
Coach: James Franklin (56-23 at Penn State, 80-38 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Kirk Clarrocca
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Journey Brown, RB, 890 yards
Passing: Sean Clifford, QB, 2,654 yards
Receiving: Pat Freiermuth, TE, 507 yards
Tackles: Micah Parsons, LB, 109
Sacks: Shaka Toney, DE, 6.5
Interceptions: Tariq Castro-Fields, CB, 2; Jaquan Brisker, S, 2; Marquis Wilson, CB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Noah Cain, WR Jahan Dotson, S Lamont Wade
Key Losses: WR KJ Hamler, OL Steven Gonzalez, DE Yetur Gross-Matos, CB John Reid, S Garrett Taylor, LB Cam Brown, DT Robert Windsor
Sean Clifford had big shoes to fill at quarterback and he put together a solid season, throwing for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He is not a flashy quarterback, but Clifford can get the job done. He lost his favorite target in KJ Hamler to the NFL, but there is talent here. Pat Freiermuth is a great tight end who caught 43 passes for 507 yards and seven touchdowns. Jahan Dotson and Daniel George will be the most experienced options at wide receiver, but there is a lot of unproven talent here. Cam Sullivan-Brown and Mac Hippenhammer have shown some flashes and the talented group of newcomers includes a handful of wideouts who could make an immediate impact. Penn State had a lot of options at running back last season and they will this year too. Journey Brown was the most productive of the bunch, rushing for 890 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Noah Cain and Devyn Ford showed plenty of potential as well. Even if there is not a true top running back that emerges, Penn State can ride the hot hand and still be one of the better teams on the ground in the Big Ten.
Penn State’s problem on defense last year was in the secondary, where they allowed over 250 yards per game through the air. The coaching staff hit the junior college ranks to bring in some much needed depth to the unit. There are some experienced options though who should improve this season like cornerbacks Tariq Castro-Fields and Marquis Wilson and safety Jaquan Barker. Linebacker Micah Parsons is coming off an All-American sophomore season where he tallied 109 tackles, including 14.0 tackles-for-loss and 5.0 sacks as well as five pass break-ups and four forced fumbles. The biggest difference for Penn State will be on the line where Yetur Gross-Matos needs to be replaced after recording 9.5 sacks and being selected in the second round of the NFL Draft. Shake Toney is next in line, but he will be the focus on the line now that Gross-Matos is gone.
The Bottom Line:
This is a pretty good group from top to bottom. Getting some surprise production from a few key spots could make the difference between a playoff group and a team that has to settle for a 9-3 record. The toughest conference games come in October where Penn State kicks off the month with a trip to Ann Arbor. After a bye week, they host Iowa and Ohio State. Those three games will decide if this group is a national title contender and if they can return to the Big Ten championship game.
Projected Bowl: Fiesta Bowl
2019 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 190.6 (36th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 221.3 (76, 8)
Total Offense: 411.9 (57, 6)
Scoring Offense: 35.8 (15, 2)
Rushing Defense: 95.0 (5, 1)
Pass Defense: 251.5 (100, 13)
Total Defense: 346.5 (34, 8)
Scoring Defense: 16.0 (8, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.62 (19, 4)
Sacks: 3.46 (7, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 2.46 (98, 11)
Madness 2020 NFL Draft Rankings:
#8 Micah Parsons
#66 Pat Freiermuth