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Re-Visiting My 7 Fearless Preseason Predictions for Penn State Football

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We can’t be right all the time.

Penn State v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

I have no problem admitting I’m wrong. In August, I speculated that Ohio State would be the 2016 Big Ten champions with Penn State having no shot at the conference crown. Whenever a new Star Wars movie comes out, I always ask my wife why Patrick Stewart’s character isn’t in this one, and just recently I discovered that Guy Fieri was not the lead singer for Smashmouth.

With that in mind, please be kind as I look back open these seven fearless predictions I made prior to the start of the 2016 season:

  1. Torrence Brown will be a first-team All-Big Ten selection

What I said in August:

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.

Coming into the season, I expected Torrence Brown to win the starting defensive end spot opposite Garrett Sickels and then quickly become Penn State’s latest in a long line of defensive line standouts. Evan Schwan ultimately locked down the starting gig while Brown became a valuable part of a deep rotation in the front four. As a redshirt sophomore, Brown finished with 33 tackles, six for a loss, 0.5 sacks, with two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. With Schwan and Sickels both leaving Penn State, Brown seems to be ready to take over as a full-time starter and has the potential to develop into an incredibly fearsome defensive end in 2017.

2. Saquon Barkley will be a Doak Walker Award finalist

What I said in August:

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.

Barkley was named a semi-finalist, but missed the cut as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey and D’Ontae Foreman of Texas received the invite on awards night, with Cook taking home the top prize. You have to believe Barkley just missed the final cut, especially considering that so many national pundits were declaring him as the nation’s best running back by the end of the season. Not only will Barkley enter 2017 as the top prospect for this award, he’ll be on everyone’s Heisman shortlist as well.

3. Saeed Blacknall will have 45-plus receptions

What I said in August:

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.

Wrong again. Blacknall made some incredible highlight-reel plays and always shows up in big moments, but an early-season injury combined with a suspension in the Rose Bowl resulted in a total of 15 receptions in 2016. When you consider Blacknall had a true breakout performance in the Big Ten Championship Game with six receptions for 155 yards and two touchdowns, combined with Chris Godwin’s early departure to the NFL, it seems likely he could become Trace McSorley’s favorite target and catch more than 45 passes next season.

4. Mike Gesicki will receive all-conference honors

What I said in August:

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.

Ding, Ding, Ding! After recovering from a sophomore slump, Gesicki would go on to have a record-breaking season in 2016. The junior tight end was selected as second-team all-Big Ten by the media and third by the coaches. Entering 2017, Gesicki is likely headed for pre-season honors as the conference’s best tight end, taking the throne from Michigan’s Jake Butt.

5. Penn State will end its return touchdown drought

What I said in August:

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.

This one somewhat correct- Penn State had a return touchdown in 2016, but not on a punt or kickoff as I originally thought. I believed with all the young emerging and speedy players, someone was destined to take a punt or kick return all the way, and more than once in 2016. That didn’t quite happen, but I think it’s safe to say we will gladly accept the Block Six play instead.

6. Marcus Allen will emerge as Penn State's standout in the secondary

What I said in August:

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.

Like Gesicki, Allen took a step backwards as a true sophomore and didn’t seem to develop into the caliber of player we were expecting. As a junior, however, Allen made good on the star promise he displayed as a true freshman. Marcus Allen was constantly around the ball and led the team in tackles, made several clutch plays throughout the season and provided key leadership for a young defense that came into its own and exceeded expectations. Allen will be back in 2017 as a legitimate All-American candidate.

7. James Franklin will need to wait for a contract extension

What I said in August:

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.

There has yet to be an announcement, but you have to believe this is being worked out behind the scenes with some eventual news that James Franklin will be calling State College home for many years to come. Not only has Franklin proved why he was one of the hottest names in the business when Penn State landed him in 2014, but the Pennsylvania native seems like he would very well like to put down roots and continue to build and maintain the program in Happy Valley. Franklin has now silenced his most vocal critics by winning a conference title with the nation’s second-youngest team, and with some incredible recruiting classes on the way the future has not been this bright for the Nittany Lions in some time.