Well, we’re down to just 16 more days until the start of a new season of Penn State Football. As we anxiously await the afternoon of September 2, let’s take a look at what we’re expecting in 2017 for the Nittany Lions.
Shareef Miller will lead the team in sacks
Miller made a splash as a redshirt freshman, and regularly found ways to wreak havoc as part of the rotation at defensive end. With both starters at the position moving on to the NFL, Miller will now have the opportunity to make a much bigger impact as a full-time starter.
Miller has exceptional explosiveness and should exceed the productivity of the 2016 starters, Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. I’ll predict 9.5 sacks for Miller, closely followed by 7.5 from redshirt freshman Shane Simmons and 6.5 from redshirt junior Torrence Brown. Needless to say, it should be a very productive year for Penn State’s defensive ends despite the need to replace both starters- especially when you consider the collection of talent at defensive tackle that will also demand attention.
Penn State will have four players named as first or second-team All-Americans
The Nittany Lions may have four players who are the best in the nation at their position in 2017. Running back Saquon Barkley enters the season high on most Heisman lists. Tight end Mike Gesicki looks to be the nation’s top pass catching tight end, and his numbers should increase as his incredible size and athleticism help to create regular mismatches in Joe Moorhead’s offense. Marcus Allen is the most intimidating safety in some time at Penn State, and with further improvement in coverage could be the nation’s top safety and first round draft pick in 2018. Finally, Tyler Davis surprised everyone with a near perfect season in 2016- connecting on all 62 extra point attempts and 22 of 24 field goals- with both unsuccessful attempts being the result of blocked kicks.
Saquon Barkley becomes a consensus All-American
Barkley enters the season as college football’s most exciting playmaker, and quite possibly, the best player in the nation. As a running back, it’s next to impossible to find a weakness in his game. Barkley has the vision and breakaway speed to reach the end zone any time he touches the ball, possesses undeniable strength to be effective between the tackles, is a match-up nightmare out of the backfield (just ask this poor Iowa defender) and knows a thing or two about picking up a defender when called upon. Barkley made the most of his offseason in the weight room once again, expanding upon his records once held by interior linemen. Barkley will enter the season with a massive amount of hype, and he will not disappoint in 2017.
The winner of the Penn State-Ohio State game will earn a playoff berth
Both programs return a tremendous amount of talent in 2017, and their showdown on Oct. 28 looks like it could decide Big Ten supremacy. After pulling off a stunning upset in 2016, Penn State must now find a way to top the Buckeyes in Columbus, which is never an easy task. The winner will have the inside track to come out on top of the nation’s toughest division, with the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Championship where a spot in the playoffs will more than likely be on the line.
Penn State will field its best offensive line since 2008
It’s been a long time coming, but the offensive line at Penn State is poised to finally become a team strength. The 2008 unit was outstanding, opening up massive lanes for Evan Royster and giving Daryl Clark all day to stand in the pocket and pick apart a defense. However, the success of that line was more of a flash in the pan.
At long last, the depth chart is littered with promising prospects in the trenches, and many young players such as Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern who have already proved their mettle. With a step forward in 2017, Penn State will have its best offensive line in close to a decade, and the opportunity to become a perennially outstanding unit for many years to come.
Joe Moorhead will be mentioned as a candidate for every head coaching vacancy that opens up during or immediately after the regular season
As long as Penn State’s offense picks up where it left off, and by all means it should even improve on last season’s staggering numbers, Joe Moorhead will be a hot commodity. With each inevitable head coach firing throughout the season, Moorhead’s name will pop in in all openings, big and small. Moorhead declined opportunities at Purdue and UCONN at the end of the 2016 season, but if the right job comes his way, he may want to return to his role as a head coach after stunning success at Fordham before joining Penn State.
Penn State will have a top 25 offense AND defense
There’s no doubt in anybody’s mind that Penn State’s offense will only get better from last season’s performance, but the defense isn’t getting as much recognition as it has in the past. The Nittany Lions lost key members on the unit in Brandon Bell, Malik Golden, Evan Schwan, and Garrett Sickels, as well as John Reid due to injury. The returning talent, however, will more than make up for the losses and propel the defense back to its dominant days. With Marcus Allen, Grant Haley, and Jason Cabinda being leaders in their respective groups, and the overall experience returning at the line, the defense is primed to share the spotlight with the offense in 2017.
Mike Gesicki will win the John Mackey Award
As the season carried on in 2016, Gesicki proved himself to be among the nation’s premiere tight ends. At 6’6’’, Gesicki has freakish athletic ability, incredible hands and a catch radius that is the envy of many standout receivers who play on Sundays. He is an absolute match-up nightmare. Prior to his breakout 2016 season, Gesicki kept a low-profile as he put in the work to improve. After another offseason to further hone his game, the possibilities seem endless for what he can do as an established player in Joe Moorhead’s offense. Clear off the space on that trophy mantle, Mike.