Torrence Brown will be a first-team All-Big Ten selection
I've already predicted that Brown will be Penn State's sacks leader in 2016, and now I'm ready to take it one step further and prognosticate that he will be named a first-team All-Big Ten defensive end in December. Brown impressed as a reserve in his redshirt freshman year, and made people take notice when he saw time on the field. His pure physical ability is among the best you'll find on the roster, and now with another offseason in the strength and conditioning program and more guidance from defensive line guru Sean Spencer, expect a major leap as he enters a starting role for the first time as a Nittany Lion. While he may not match Carl Nassib's incredible 2015 campaign, expect Brown to finish with double-digit sacks as he quickly emerges into one of the most feared pass-rushers in the big Ten.
Saquon Barkley will be a Doak Walker Award finalist
This may seem a bit too optimistic considering 2016 is developing into the year of the running back. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, LSU's Leonard Fournette, Florida State's Dalvin Cook and Georgia's Nick Chubb are on everyone's Heisman shortlist, and for good reason. But not only does Barkley have the collection of skills to become one of the elite backs in all of college football, he's been working his tail off this offseason to improve his power and speed from the already-dazzling display we witnessed in 2015. When you put it all together, it seems Barkley is ready to become a household name as a sophomore. While he may not receive as many carries as the other top contenders as he heads a loaded stable of backs, he should be able to do more with less by running at full strength against tired defenses, while making enough highlight-reel plays to stick in voters minds throughout the season.
Saeed Blacknall will have 45-plus receptions
Many expected Blacknall to have a breakout season in 2015, which did not happen as he managed only eight receptions on his year (although his 31.0 yard per catch average was mighty impressive). Now a junior, expect Blacknall to take a major step forward as he becomes a vital part of Penn State's offense. Not only will there be more passes to go around under Joe Moorhead's up-tempo offense, Blacknall should benefit under the new scheme as he has the ability to be a major asset in open space. Given his size, he should also become one of Penn State's primary targets in the red zone.
Mike Gesicki will receive all-conference honors
I'm not suggesting Gesicki will be among the John Mackey Award finalists or even among the top three tight ends in the conference, but having his name appear as a Big Ten Honorable Mention recipient would signify a huge leap after a disappointing sophomore season. After coming to Penn State as one of the most sought after tight ends in his class, many expected Gesicki to have a breakout season in 2015. Instead, he often appeared more of a liability than a playmaker. However, the things that curtailed his performance- dropped passes and the occasional bad penalty/mental lapse- can be easily corrected with coaching and increased attention to details. I'm sure Gesicki had more of a case of the 'yips' as opposed to him just not having good hands- once he had his first drop, it's likely that was the thing he focused on whenever the ball was in the air, instead of concentrating on the fundamentals that would otherwise be second nature. As a 6'6'' tight end with freakish athleticism, Gesicki can shine in Joe Moorhead's uptempo offense, especially led by an inexperienced quarterback who will be looking for a safety blanket on short, quick throws as he gets his feet wet. He's reportedly been extremely focused throughout the offseason and should be in store for a major improvement in 2016.
Marcus Allen will emerge as Penn State's standout in the secondary
Like Gesicki, Allen didn't quite live up to lofty expectations as a sophomore. Playing as a true freshman, Allen displayed nearly unlimited potential that could eventually elevate him to All-American status. While his play was solid in 2015 and he finished second on the team in tackles, he was nowhere near among the best safeties in the nation, let alone the Big Ten. However, after going back and watching him closely in 2014 vs. 2015, it became evident that Allen was limited by a nagging shoulder injury that impacted his play more than anyone would let on. Instead of the hard-hits followed by wrapping up his man after contact, Allen seemed to play warily and not focus on the proper fundamentals needed to be an elite defensive back. This led to missed tackle after missed tackle, as fans wondered what happened to the player who took the defense by storm after being inserted into the lineup halfway through his freshman season. With a healthy Allen, we should expect a bigger, stronger and more experienced version of the player we saw explode onto the scene in 2014. Even with Grant Haley and John Reid on the cusp of becoming shut-down corners, Allen will be the true standout of a very young and talented secondary.
Penn State will end its return touchdown drought
The last time Penn State had a return touchdown, Joe Paterno was still the head coach, Rob Bolden was the starting quarterback and running back Silas Redd was the the fan-favorite in Happy Valley. Suffice to say, it's been a long drought- but that will change in 2016. No matter how you feel about James Franklin, there's no denying the fact he's brought speed, speed and more speed to the roster. Pair that with the fact that full amount of scholarship players available going forward, we should witness a sharp uptick in the performance of the special teams this fall. Last fall, Nick Scott and Koa Farmer seemed to be on the verge of breaking off a kickoff return to the house. This season, that one key block or cut could make the difference. My completely random prediction? DeAndre Thompkins ends the drought with a punt return touchdown in week three against Temple, while Farmer takes a kickoff return the distance in week six against Maryland.
James Franklin will need to wait for a contract extension
I would love nothing more than a successful season that leads to a long-term contract for Franklin and a relatively drama-free offseason where we're all certain the program is heading in the right direction. But while Franklin seems to have a solid relationship with the Athletic Department, this roster probably doesn't have what is needed for the type of season that would result in a new contract for the head coach. With a new offense, quarterback, defensive line and an offensive line that will still be a major work in progress, a nine or 10 win season probably isn't in the cards. Franklin will just need to wait until the team goes 15-0 in 2017.
Now please be sure to bookmark this page so we can all have a good laugh following Thanksgiving weekend. What are some of your bold predictions for 2016?