It’s something that no college football fan wants to think of, but losing players for one reason or another throughout the season is an inevitability. With that in mind, we examine which current Nittany Lion would be the most difficult to replace this fall. To the roundtable!
Lando: Blake Gillikin
I will go with the obvious choice here. I thought about Trace McSorley, and yes, he’s the unquestioned leader of the team, but I’d be confident with Lion Stevens at the helm if necessary. Miles Sanders certainly has a lot of talent, but there are several backs behind him that could fill in (maybe not to his level, but serviceably). Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins also have company behind them, and the tight end position is a mystery. Last year at this time, I might have said McGovern or Bates, but the offensive line is thought to be a potential strength for the team in 2018. As for the defense, Koa Farmer would be my only worthy candidate due to his experience.
With all that said, there is no one with experience behind Blake Gillikin at punter, and whoever is doing the placekicking for the Nittany Lions will have not seen a second of game action prior to Appalachian State. Gillikin has proven himself to be extremely valuable as a punter, and helped save the 2016 Ohio State game for Penn State. No. 93 is the easy choice here.
Marty: Trace McSorley
This is an easy one for me. For my money Trace is the best quarterback in the FBS and a quarterback that good is irreplaceable. Trace is as productive as any quarterback in the country, a fiery leader, and he owns the clutch gene. It would not be even the slightest surprise to see Trace make a trip to New York City during Heisman weekend this fall, and he is the biggest reason why Penn State reaching the College Football Playoff this season would not be a surprise either.
Chris L.: Koa Farmer
I really wanted to say Trace McSorley for this one - he’s the undisputed leader of the offense, and will be a big reason why the offense thrives this year, despite the losses of Barkley and Moorhead. But Tommy Stevens is going to be excellent when he gets the starting nod, so I’m not too concerned about the QB position.
I’ll say Koa Farmer, simply because he is our most experienced linebacker, in a unit that cannot afford a rash of injuries. Really, any of the projected starting LBs could go here, but Farmer brings a lot of experience. He may not be a prototypical linebacker, but he is solid in his role. To lose him would mean an entirely new starting trio at LB, which would be beyond scary.
Clay: Connor McGovern
I’ll take a different path here and say Connor McGovern. Yes, Penn State’s offensive line talent and depth are light years ahead of where they were three years ago. Yes, Ryan Bates is incredible and Mike Miranda seems like he could have a future as the anchor of the offensive line at the center position. But McGovern is an All-American caliber center who has a good rapport with Trace McSorley. He makes a ton of the line checks and calls to pick up blitzes, and he always seems to get around when they ask the center to pull in the run game. McGovern isn’t just good, he’s invaluable to this 2018 team.
Aaron: Trace McSorley
The answer is really Trace McSorley because he’s the quarterback and he’s going to be a major factor in the passing game and the running game. I don’t care how many linebackers Tommy Stevens runs past or how many cute gimmick touchdown receptions he has; we still don’t know if the man can accurately deliver a football the way McSorley has for the past two years.
Still, I will offer an alternative most irreplaceable player in Juwan Johnson. The roster lacks experienced pass-catchers, and Johnson was very reliable down the stretch last year. He’s going to be important to the offense in 2018 because McSorley has a stronger connection with him that he does with DeAndre Thompkins or young upstarts like Mac Hippenhammer and Justin Shorter. When Penn State needs a reception on third down, Johnson is going to be the first option.
Cari: Blake Gillikin
Trace McSorley is the easy answer, but as all of the Tommy-stans will tell you, it’s the wrong one.
It’s gotta be Ray Guy contender Blake Gillikin, who almost single-handedly turned around Penn State’s special teams play in 2016. Now a captain, he’s in contention to kick as well as punt, and his leadership has raised exponentially. Punting is winning, after all.
Chris T: Juwan Johnson
Juwan Johnson would be hardest to replace. At 6’4 and 225 pounds, the redshirt junior is set to be the featured receiver in what could be his final season in Happy Valley. While Justin Shorter is waiting in the wings, and has a similar frame at 6’4 and 220 pounds, the freshman lacks experience. The top four wideouts on the depth chart after Johnson are all talented but also are all well-under six feet tall. De’Andre Thompkins is listed at 5’10 and so is Mac Hippenhammer. Brandon Polk and K.J. Hamler are 5’9. There is plenty of talent behind Johnson but no player has his experience and size, including the tight ends.
Johnson made a few clutch catches during the final drive in Iowa last season when every player had to win their individual match-up. Saeed Blacknall, at 6’3, made a huge catch over the middle to continue the drive on fourth down. Mike Gesicki, the other big target from last season’s team, is gone as well. So until the tight end group shows that it can step up and make those type of plays, and players such as Shorter gain experience, Johnson is a one of a kind target for McSorley.
Jared: Ryan Bates
Think about Penn State’s offense during the first half against Ohio State. Now, think about how they looked in the second half once Bates exited the game with an injury. They went from scoring at will against one of the nation’s top defenses to an offense reminiscent of 2004 or 2014 that was completely helpless in the trenches. Penn State’s offensive line should be deeper and talented as the latest recruiting classes help the unit to take shape and make a giant leap forward, but they still need to go out and show they can consistently perform at a high level. Bates has serious All-American potential, and he needs to be on the field to lead the way as the offensive line looks to take the next step and dominate against some of the nation’s best defenses that will appear on the schedule in 2018.
Pat: Trace McSorley
I am highly offended that anyone else is even on this list.
Tim: Blake Gillikin
I have to go with the majority of my colleagues here and say it’s Blake Gillikin. His ability to not only flip field position with his deep punts but also his ability to pin opponents deep in their own territory with his accurate pooch punts is something this team had sorely lacked in the few years before he came on board. Not to mention he’s a team captain, something that rarely happens with a punter. That alone should tell you how vital he is to the team’s success.
Dylan: Blake Gillikin
I’m going to do my best to offend Patrick here and not pick Trace McSorley. Instead I’m going to go with the hero that Penn State needs but doesn’t deserve, Blake “Ray Guy” Gillikin.
It may be hard to remember life before Gillikin, but it wasn’t pretty. I would even argue that since arriving on campus, Gillikin is one of Penn State’s bigger reasons for their success. The Georgia native is simply one of the best punters in the nation and his ability to flip the field is matched by very few. I believe with a younger defense this season, his irreplaceability even rises higher. The defense is going to take a few weeks to figure it all out so having that more room for error will be important and Gillikin supplies that more room for error.
So what say you, BSD reader? Who is Penn State’s most irreplaceable player in 2018?