The college football season has come to a close, which means it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for some way-too-early rankings. All in all, the college football world seems to be high on Penn State, ranking the Nittany Lions anywhere from No. 6 through No. 11.
CBS Sports (Ranked: No. 6)
James Franklin has proved himself an elite coach winning 11 in back-to-back seasons. Yes, Saquon Barkley is gone, but there is another Heisman candidate in quarterback Trace McSorley. Watch linebacker Micah Parsons, the nation’s No. 4 prospect, who enrolled at Penn State on Monday.
USA Today (Ranked: No. 6)
But the Buckeyes and Badgers are trailed closely by the Nittany Lions, who lose all-everything running back Saquon Barkley but will have a roster that matches up with almost any team in the country. Look for Trace McSorley to be a major factor in the Heisman Trophy race.
Yahoo Sports (Ranked: No. 7)
Yeah, Saquon Barkley is off to the NFL but there’s a lot of talent returning for the Nittany Lions. Trace McSorley is back for his final season and has Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins to throw to. Miles Sanders should step in at running back. The biggest question for Penn State is on defense as the Nittany Lions need to replace eight starters. But Penn State should be in the mix for the Big Ten East again.
Sports Illustrated (Ranked: No. 7)
Losing Barkley doesn’t help Penn State’s case, nor does the departure of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, but the Nittany Lions still have a stout defense and lots of potential on the offensive side of the ball.
Bleacher Report (Ranked: No. 10)
2. Ohio State
10. Penn State
Sporting News (Ranked: No. 10)
The Nittany Lions were four points away over two games from an undefeated season. James Franklin continues to build through recruiting. Penn State, however, must deal with the loss of Saquon Barkley, along with finding a new offensive coordinator to replace Joe Moorhead. But we like running back Miles Sanders’ breakout potential. How much pressure will that put on quarterback Trace McSorley if he returns?
ESPN (Ranked: No. 11)
After struggling in his first two seasons as Penn State’s coach, James Franklin has guided the Nittany Lions to 11-win seasons and New Year’s Six bowl appearances in back-to-back seasons. Now the real work begins, as Penn State will have to replace Barkley, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead (now Mississippi State’s head coach) and eight defensive starters.
Passing game coordinator Ricky Rahne took over playcalling duties and had an impressive debut in a 35-28 win over Washington in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. The Nittany Lions might rely on quarterback Trace McSorley even more next season, and he’ll be one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates if he delivers.
Penn State’s schedule gets a little more difficult with games against Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin, but it will play all but the Wolverines in Happy Valley.
Granted I don’t know as much about what other schools are returning, but I’d actually slot the Nittany Lions closer to No. 11 than No. 6. The offense — even with the losses of Saquon Barkley and Mike Gesicki — should still be plenty good behind Trace McSorley. But there’s just too many questions marks defensively to have the Nittany Lions ranked in the top seven, in my opinion. The defense’s talent level will increase, but there’s so much experience being replaced that I think, at least initially, there will be a step back.