While Clemson celebrates its national title, the rest of the college football world has its attention on what’s to come next season. Athlon Sports kickstarted the way-too-early Top 25 love for the 2017 Nittany Lions, and it appears the rest of the internet followed suit. Let’s see what they have to say about Penn State as we’re 235 days away from kickoff against Akron.
ESPN (Ranked: No. 4)
Outlook: The Nittany Lions' dramatic turnaround in 2016 -- they won their final eight regular-season games and beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game -- should serve as a big springboard to 2017. Leading receiver Chris Godwin opted to leave early for the NFL draft, but most of Penn State's starters on offense will return, including star tailback Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley. Both will be top Heisman Trophy candidates. Plus, PSU will get back a few offensive linemen who were hurt for the stretch run. Four of the defense's most productive players are departing -- defensive ends Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels, linebacker Brandon Bell and strong safety Malik Golden -- but everyone else is expected back. The Nittany Lions will have to navigate their way through a difficult Big Ten road schedule that includes trips to Iowa, Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan State.
SBNation (Ranked: No. 5)
Here’s our stupendously early top 25:
2. Ohio State
4. Florida State
5. Penn State
Fox Sports (Ranked: No. 6)
The Nittany Lions could bring back as many as 17 starters from their Big Ten championship squad. QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley are the headliners, and McSorley gets back most of his top receivers and pass blockers. Defensively, Penn State loses starting ends Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels as well as second-leading tackler Brandon Bell. Younger players will need to emerge up front.
Sporting News (Ranked: No. 7)
The Nittany Lions are rolling with two Heisman Trophy contenders in Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley in their backfield, and the carry-over effect for Sporting News Coach of the Year James Franklin is obvious. Penn State will be in contention for the Big Ten East championship again.
Pro Football Focus (Ranked: No. 7)
Penn State’s remarkable in-season turnaround should leave the program buoyant going into the 2017 season. Moreover, the majority of the players that were responsible for the spectacle in the Rose Bowl look set to return, giving the Nittany Lions a legitimate chance to retain their Big Ten crown, and force their way into the playoff picture. Chief among the returners are running back Saquon Barkley (83.5 overall) and quarterback Trace McSorley (80.5), who give Penn State one of the most dynamic backfields in the nation.
Campus Insiders (Ranked: No. 8)
Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley return to the backfield, and Joe Moorhead is back as James Franklin’s coordinator. In other words, the Lions will continue rolling on offense, the catalyst for last year’s unlikely Big Ten championship. Franklin will put out an APB for pass rushers now that Evan Schwan has graduated and Garrett Sickels has foregone his remaining eligibility.
USA Today (Ranked: No. 8)
The Nittany Lions’ biggest post-regular season development was offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s decision to return in 2017. That, along with the return of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, will ensure this offseason will be even better next season. Recapturing this year’s magic won’t be easy, but there’s zero reason to think Penn State is poised to take any step back.
Get excited, folks. It’s been a long time since Penn State had this level of preseason hype, but this team definitely warrants it. It’ll be led by two legitimate Heisman contenders in Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, and the rest of the starting lineup will be littered with juniors and seniors, making Penn State one of the most experienced teams in the country. The Nittany Lions aren’t without their holes — finding a No. 1 wideout, replacing veterans at defensive end, and ongoing depth issues at linebacker — but there’s no doubt that contending for a College Football Playoff appearance is the expectation in 2017.