#18 Penn State Football 2021 Preview

Penn State Nittany Lions
Overall Rank: #18
#5 Big Ten
 Penn State Logo
Penn State got off to a terrible 0-5 start in 2020, their worst start to a season ever. However, they did win the final four games of the season. Those were not necessarily great victories against teams like Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois, but Coach James Franklin does head into 2021 with some momentum.
2020 Record: 4-5, 4-5
2020 Bowl: None
Coach: James Franklin (60-28 at Penn State, 84-43 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Yurcich
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Keyvone Lee, RB, 438 yards
Passing: Sean Clifford, QB, 1,883 yards
Receiving: Jahan Dotson, WR, 884 yards
Tackles: Ellis Brooks, LB, 60
Sacks: Brandon Smith, LB, 2.0
Interceptions: 3 tied with 1
Other Key Returnees: RB Devyn Ford, WR Parker Washington, LB Jesse Luketa, S Jaquan Brisker, CB Joey Porter
Key Losses: TE Pat Freiermuth, OL Michal Menet, OL Will Fries, DL Shaka Toney, DL Antonio Shelton, DL Shane Simmons, DL Jaysin Oweh, DB Lamont Wade
New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich has a lot to work with. This was a team that ranked second in the Big Ten in total offense last season. Quarterback Sean Clifford threw nine interceptions so many times that offensive production did not lead to points. Clifford has been here before and got the job done more efficiently in 2019 so he can certainly do it again. With Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington back at wide receiver, Clifford has his two favorite targets. Losing Pat Freiermuth at tight end hurts, but he only played in four games last season and Brenton Strange proved to be a capable pass catcher in his absence. The slow start last season was in large part due to a series of unfortunate events that decimated the ground game. Noah Cain should be back to full strength after a foot injury ended his 2020 campaign after one game. Devyn Ford has experience too and Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes played well when forced into action last season. Add Baylor transfer John Lovett to the mix and this is suddenly an extremely deep unit.
The defense has some questions on the front line with Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney off to the NFL and Antonio Shelton and Shane Simmons are also gone. A few transfers came in to help bolster the numbers, but there are not a lot of proven options here. All three starting linebackers are back, but the coaching staff hopes that moving a few players around will increase their production. The secondary was the strong point of the defense last year and will be again in 2021. Tariq Castro-Fields only played in three games last season but still managed to earn All-Big Ten honorable mention accolades. Joey Porter earned Third-Team accolades as a freshman and safety Jaquan Brisker ranked third on the team with 57 tackles.
The Bottom Line:
Coach Franklin is not going to suffer his second losing season at Penn State in 2021. This group should look a lot more like the Penn State team that went 28-8 in Big Ten play between 2016 and 2019. Penn State will be tested early with a trip to Wisconsin. A non-conference home date against Auburn two weeks later will be interesting as well. The Big Ten East will be too tough for the Nittany Lions to win the conference, but Penn State will be competitive and pull off a big win or two in 2021.
Projected Bowl:  Music City Bowl
2020 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 174.3 (55th in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 256.0 (40, 4)
Total Offense: 430.3 (37, 2)
Scoring Offense: 29.8 (54, 3)
Rushing Defense: 130.2 (26, 4)
Pass Defense: 198.6 (24, 2)
Total Defense: 328.8 (17, 3)
Scoring Defense: 27.7 (55, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.78 (112, 11)
Sacks: 2.44 (50, 5)
Sacks Allowed: 3.11 (109, 13)