We are just 72 hours away from the start of the season so let’s take a look at how BSD staffers believe Penn State will fare in 2018.
We’ve talked enough about all of the talent Penn State must replace heading into 2018. Saquon Barkley is gone (and off to hopeful stardom for my New York Giants), as is Jason Cabinda, Marcus Allen, Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton, Troy Apke, and others. However, the schedule is favorable for the Nittany Lions, featuring only one road contest where they may be underdogs heading into the game, and the privilege of hosting the other three top teams in the conference. As always, the first month of the season will be critical with Penn State facing four winnable games before their first test against Ohio State. Penn State may struggle initially against Appalachian State, Pitt, Kent State, and even Illinois, but will separate from each and earn decisive victories, placing them at 4-0 before the Buckeyes come to Beaver Stadium. Make no mistake, I have faith in this team, but I also am pessimistic by nature, and JK Dobbins scares the crap out of me. However...the Nittany Lions will do just enough, perhaps even get a defensive or special teams score to edge out Ohio State and move to 5-0.
Following a bye week, the Spartans come to town, and Trace will be ready for them. He and the offense will improve on their difficult showing in the second half of the seemingly week-long game last year to get past Michigan State in a close one. Indiana is not a trap game, and neither is Iowa. 8-0.
Pessimistic Lando is back with a vengeance. Michigan will upset Penn State thanks to some Jim Harbaugh voodoo or devil worship or something, bringing Penn State to 8-1. Trace, Miles, Juwan, and the offense will take out their frustration on the Badgers, Scarlet Knights, and Terps, to finish their regular season at 11-1. Will that be enough to make the Big Ten championship game? Probably.
App State presents a solid season-opening challenge, but Penn State gets the win (1-0). The trip to Pitt will be a tough one, as I think Pitt is a true wildcard team this year - will the Lions get the team that upended Miami last year, or the team that needed OT to defeat FCS Youngstown State? It’s Pitt’s Super Bowl, but the Lions are too talented - PSU wins after pulling away in the fourth (2-0). Kent State is a nice easy finish to the non-con (3-0). A Friday night game at Illinois is almost the equivalent of a bye week (4-0, 1-0) before the Buckeyes come to town.
OSU is the most talented team Penn State will play this year in the regular season, and have been pegged as preseason B1G favorites. But they have to come to Beaver Stadium for an early season white out. I like Penn State in this game, and I like them BIG. 2+ TD win for the good guys (5-0, 2-0). After the bye, Michigan State comes to town, and the Lions avenge last season’s loss (6-0, 3-0). A trip to Indiana (7-0, 4-0) and a visit from Iowa (8-0, 5-0) have the Lions rolling before the season’s biggest test, a road trip to Michigan in November.
Make no mistake - the Big House is a tough out for any opponent. The Wolverines’ defense is fierce, and Shea Patterson may very well provide the spark missing from Michigan’s offense. If PSU stumbles, it will be either this game or the next one. I think Michigan will do an excellent job of stifling the Penn State attack - for a while. PSU pulls away late in the third quarter, as the Michigan offense - while improved - can’t keep up with the Lions (9-0, 6-0). After getting through the B1G East gauntlet undefeated, the Lions are rewarded by having Wisconsin come to town the very next week. Unfortunately, I think PSU suffers a let down game here, akin to OSU getting blasted by Iowa last season after outlasting Penn State. Wisconsin rides their run game to victory, and a rare home loss for the Lions (9-1, 6-1). Easy games at Rutgers (10-1, 7-1), and home against Maryland (11-1, 8-1) means that even if the Buckeyes win out after their September game against Penn State, the Lions claim the east title.
And how sweet it is - after suffering their only loss of the season at the hands of the Badgers, Penn State gets a rematch with Wisconsin in the B1G Conference Championship game. Beating Penn State once this season is tough - to do it twice is an incredibly tall task, and the Badgers aren’t quite up to snuff. PSU wins the B1G (12-1), and finally make it to the playoffs. From there, who knows?
With the talent that the Big Ten has there is a chance that the team could take a few losses this season. The two games that worry me most at this point are Michigan and Wisconsin, back to back, within seven days. The earlier back to back test of Ohio State followed by Michigan State comes with a bye week between games. I think that the team will enter the Michigan game with an 8-0 record. Following the Wisconsin game, Penn State’s record will be 9-1, having lost either in Ann Arbor or at home to the Badgers. The Lions should hold on to finish 11-1, with one Big Ten loss. The pack of teams atop the Big Ten East division may very well need a tie-breaker to determine which team gets to go to Indianapolis with a chance to advance to the playoffs.
A few months ago, I think I most likely would’ve put Penn State’s 2018 record at roughly 9-3 and 10-2. At the time, I was unsure about the defense and how it would perform with some noticeable holes that will be hard to patch this season especially considering how the defense already at time the last two seasons has a hard time stopping elite teams. That being said, I’ve warmed up on the team recently and I think they’ll end up going 11-1. For me it’s pretty simple, I think Penn State’s offense is just going to be too hard to stop especially with the potential the offensive line has this season. A lot of the offeneses potential for me comes down to the arm of Trace McSorley, who to me like many others is the best quarterback in the country and while I wouldn’t expect him to put up Baker Mayfield type numbers, I think could be a true Heisman contender this season. Trace has been known to step in big games throughout his career and he’s also undefeated at home which for the Lions will be huge in 2018 with three elite opponents coming to Beaver Stadium.
I think the defense will get carved up at times but I also think some younger players will be able to step up and make some huge plays throughout the season. Out of the four elite opponents they face this season (Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin) I believe they’ll go 3-1 with Michigan as their best chance of a loss. That being said, when it comes down to scores, I have all four being one score games at the final whistle. At worst case, I see them going 10-2. I think that the team is a National Title contender in the idea that they have what it takes to get the College Football Playoffs, do I think they could potentially compete with Clemson, Alabama, and Georgia this season? I’m not sure and that will be a discussion for another day but first they’ll have to get through their regular season schedule before facing Wisconsin most likely in a potential Big Ten Championship game. But for now, I’ll stick with a 11-1 record and a trip to Indianapolis for the second time in three seasons.
For my money, Trace McSorley is the best quarterback in the FBS. When you have a quarterback this good you’ve always got a chance to win. But when this quarterback is surrounded by the type of talent McSorley is surrounded by, you’re talking about a top-10 team. Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and DaeSean Hamilton may be gone, but Penn State’s offense will be among the nation’s best once again in 2018. The Nittany Lion defense may have question marks at linebacker and defensive tackle, but they have enough talent at the positions to be ok. They will also have one of the Big Ten’s best secondaries, as well as a great pass rush.
Three of Penn State’s four toughest opponents - Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin - have to come to Beaver Stadium this season. A road trip to Michigan will be the team’s toughest test this fall. Penn State *should* win their other eight games, if they can go 2-2 in these other four you take it. When the dust settles this fall, look for the Nittany Lions to be 10-2. Even if that is not enough to get them to Indianapolis and on the door of the College Football Playoff, it will put the team in their third consecutive New Years Six Bowl.
Maaaaan, I stink at these every year. I’m always torn between being overly excited and then trying to be pragmatic. Alas, we’ll go with 10-2
I think there’s a good chance Penn State comes out of the gates like a bat outta hell this year. They should roll through a stout but not-on-their-level Appalachian State team. I’m expecting them to roll Pitt as the gap in talent level continues to grow. Kent State will be over by halftime. Illinois is terrible, though a Friday night road game will be odd.
Penn State will then be 4-0 and on the cusp of the top five with an extra day to prepare for a huge home game at night against Ohio State. I like the Buckeyes, and I like Dwayne Haskins, but Haskins ain’t coming into a whiteout in The Beav (TM) and beating this Penn State team in his fifth career start.
The Nittany Lions will then have a tough encounter with a very good Sparty team quarterbacked by the whirling dervish that is Brian Lewerke. While I expect that game to be a nailbiter on the backs of an emotional, hard-fought win over Ohio State, I think the revenge factor from a year ago plays a role and Penn State eeks out a victory to move to 6-0.
Indiana on the road at noon could be a tough one, but the Hoosiers still don’t have a quarterback that scares me despite Peyton Ramsey’s development a year ago. Iowa at home marks the eighth game on the calendar and should be a pretty chippy, back and forth affair. I see Penn State pulling that one out with a strong second half.
By this point, Penn State could well be ranked in the top two in the country with the toughest stretch of its schedule staring it down. Unfortunately, this is where I think things get a bit bumpy.
I’m not sold on Shea Patterson. I’m certainly not sold on Jim Harbaugh. But I am sold on Michigan’s ability to run downhill, to play physical, and to limit possessions. I expect the Wolverines to do just that in front of a soldout crowd in Ann Arbor and come away with an ugly albeit important win.
The following week, Wisconsin comes to town and, like Michigan, the Badgers want to be physical and beat you up at the line of scrimmage. I believe that coming off a physically difficult game a week ago, the young Penn State defensive line and linebacking corps struggle to contain Jonathan Taylor and Wisconsin comes away with a rare victory on the road in Beaver Stadium during James Franklin’s tenure.
On the bright side, Penn State will absolutely trounce both Rutgers and Maryland to round out the season and with a 10-2 record and only one loss coming in the Big Ten East, could sneak into the conference championship with a three or four-way tie for the division.
All offseason long, I have waffled between 9-3 and 10-2. Given that all but one of PSU’s toughest games are at home, I am going with the latter. I will probably look silly in retrospect, but I think PSU takes down both the Buckeyes and Sparty. OSU typically doesn’t hit their stride until later in the season and Dwayne Haskins will be making his first true road start (in a White Out at Beaver Stadium, no less). Sparty coming after a bye week makes me more confident in PSU exacting revenge from last year. I think the two losses will come on the road at Michigan followed by Wisconsin at home the following week (with the Badgers taking full advantage of a PSU squad coming off a physical game at Michigan).
I know there has been some concern raised about Indiana and Iowa, but while I could see the Hoosiers throwing yet another scare into PSU in Bloomington, they just don’t have the depth to handle them all four quarters. Iowa will certainly be a formidable opponent, but I think PSU will have less trouble with them in the friendly confines of the Beav. Pitt is the only game on the non-conference slate that could truly be a challenge, but unlike two years ago, PSU has experience at QB and on the O-line (look for Trace to light up the Pitt’s secondary, which is the weakest part of what should be a decent defense).
What does it say about the state of the program when I’m predicting 10-2, and it feels like I’m pessimistic?
Penn State could very well go undefeated, and also could (though in my opinion,it’s much less likely) go 7-5, with five opponents on their schedule that could easily be predicted to win their division in the Big Ten. But it’s not for nothing that these Nittany Lions are 20-1 at home the last three seasons, and four of the five aforementioned division contenders have to come to Beaver Stadium. With Trace McSorley and the talent on this PSU squad, they aren’t going to lose four home games. My prediction is, though, that they will lose one at home, and on the road at Michigan (who will lose two games in the division again, to MSU and OSU, and once again finish no higher than third in the East).
I’m really conflicted as to which home game the Lions lose, though. I’m crossing Iowa off my list right away; if they didn’t get this team at home last year, they won’t on the road, and look for Juwan Johnson to inflict a lot more damage against the Hawkeyes than simply catching a walkoff touchdown. The one is going to be one of Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin; and MSU will be the next one off my list. Last year, it took Sparty a deluge and ridiculous rain delay to win at home, and the Lions are notoriously good under Franklin coming off a BYE (and the Spartans get to be the Homecoming opponent after PSU’s BYE this year). Ohio State may be the favorite to win the East this year, but McSorley (and an improved o-line) is pissed about that last minute, one-point loss last year, and I think it’ll be close, but the Lions will out. It’s the pesky Badgers I expect to upend Penn State in Happy Valley this year, with a game coming right after playing at Michigan, and the last game of a really tough seven game stretch. It’ll be the last close game of the regular season, and it should be a doozy.
Could Penn State win the Big Ten? Absolutely. Trace McSorley is the best quarterback in college football, and with him at the helm, the Nittany Lions have a chance to win every game. But in all reality, I think this season will act as a bridge year for the program. One of the weird benefits of the sanctions was that it pushed so many young guys onto the field early, that it helped build an abnormal amount of experience. Last year, Penn State had 10 senior starters, and six them were three-year starters. This year, Penn State has just five senior starters, and only two — McSorley and DeAndre Thompkins — are three-year starters.
Now, that doesn’t mean the number of senior starters is the be-all end-all when it comes to predicting future success. From top-to-bottom, I think this Penn State team is more talented than last year’s. Because of that, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for the Nittany Lions to jump ahead of schedule — they’ll just need a good chunk of that youth, especially at linebacker and defensive tackle, to make play above expectations. Could it happen? Sure, but talented or not, there’s just a lot of lost veteran experience to overcome.
All of this is to say: I think Penn State is a year away from truly reaching that elite level. I think we’ll see flashes of it this season, especially offensively. I don’t think scoring will be an issue for the Nittany Lions at all. But we’ll also see a team with one or two holes defensively that it just isn’t good enough to patch up right now.
Like Tim, I’m toggling back-and-forth between 9-3 and 10-2 as Penn State looks to replace many key components in 2018. My biggest concern is the amount of inexperience on defense. It seems that there will be times when the defense struggles to get off the field, which will be too much to overcome in a few games that go down to the wire.
But here’s the thing I still have yet to wrap my head around- Penn State getting to the point where they are a program that can simply reload and be a contender even after heavy turnover. James Franklin has been recruiting at a level unseen before at Penn State, and they have proven that they can develop players as well. They won a Big Ten Championship and had consecutive seasons finishing at #7 in the nation with a core nucleus of three-star players who exceeded expectations. Now they will be developing classes that are primarily blue chips.
I keep thinking this is the season they take a small step back and finish out of the top 10, before becoming playoff contenders on an annual basis. But maybe they don’t need another season to get there. Only time will tell.
If I’d written this prediction last night, a few beers in, I would have had a very different prediction than what I’ve got today. Sure, it would be nice to scream “12-0 or GTFO” like I was last night, but it’s not realistic, as much as Penn Staters hope it to be. The Nittany Lions have too many players to replace, an inexperienced defense, and a tough home and road schedule that’s going to be tricky to get out of without a loss. Even with McSorley at the helm (who I think gets an invitation but doesn’t win the Heisman) and talented players like Juwan Johnson, Ryan Bates, Miles Sanders, Micah Parson and so many more, this isn’t the year for the Big Ten Championship, an undefeated season or more. That’s next year, I’m sure of it.
Penn State will win its first four in easy fashion and lose to Ohio State at home (but prove me wrong, please), and it’s going to sting a lot. The Nittany Lions will win the rest until Wisconsin, where the defense won’t be able to take on the bulky Badger offensive line. It’s going to be tougher than they think against Michigan State and Michigan, too with players getting worn out and banged up. 10-2 is the most likely scenario, but it could go a little worse with a tough mid-season schedule.
It’s still going to be a great season and a far cry from losing seasons like 1988, 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004, which I very clearly remember and never want to experience again. Just one more year, and we’ll be so far on the opposite side of the dark years, and I can’t wait to scream “12-0 or GTFO” in 2019.
There’s optimism abound in these parts. Consecutive top 10 finishes, 22 total wins in the last two years, and a returning All-America quarterback candidate combined with a PR friendly head coach making serious hay on the recruiting trail will do that. Relevance is the rage these days, and Penn State’s “hot” brand identity is a welcome change from the program’s two most recent eras –
- The early-aughts (2000-2011), where a sizeable chunk of fans felt that the Nittany Lions were content to leave wins on the table while riding out the late-stage Paterno years.
- The post-sanction era (2012-2015), where the program was looking to survive.
I see lots of 10 or 11 win projections, not just from familiar faces here, but even those on the national scene. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg has even suggested that the way to consider Penn State’s 2018 season success is “ playoff appearance, which is the clear goal for James Franklin’s team.”
I’m seeing things a bit differently. With all of the positive press and up-and-coming talent, most commentators (and commenters) have given lip service to replacing Saquon Barkley, with many even suggesting that Miles Sanders might have a better year than Barkley’s 2017 because he won’t generate the same amount of attention. But as good as Sanders should be, it’s not just Barkley that needs to be discussed. Penn State’s offense also loses DaeSean Hamilton (its all-time receptions leader) and Mike Gesicki to the NFL, as well as superstar offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to Starkville, Mississippi. On defense, the Cothr(e/a)ns, Jason Cabinda, Troy Apke, and Christian Campbell have all departed, as has the dynamic duo of Grant Haley and Marcus Allen, who were involved in almost every signature defensive play of the last two years.
That’s a remarkable amount of production to replace. I don’t care if Brent Pry and the newly minted Ricky Rahne are coaching prodigies. If you’re playing along at home, that means we’re looking for big, immediate steps from Sanders, Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompkins, Nick Bowers, Jonathan Holland, Kevin Givens, Robert Windsor, Koa Farmer, Cam Brown, Amani Oruwariye, John Reid (off a serious injury), Tariq Castro-Fields, Nick Scott, Lamont Wade, Garrett Taylor, and Jonathan Sutherland. It wouldn’t hurt for some of the freshman to contribute early either – I’m looking at you, Ricky Slade, Justin Shorter, PJ Mustipher, and Micah Parsons.
There’s little question that this team has serious talent, perhaps more raw talent than any Penn State team since the late-1990s. That said, this feels to me like a team that will be excellent by the end of the year, but will have some kinks to iron out early. And while the schedule does set up favorably in terms of big games at home, Penn State also faces stiff competition in the early going. Pitt may not be “it” this year, but it’s a night game on the road early in the year. The Buckeyes and Sparty appear in Beaver Stadium before mid-October. Penn State is great at home and Trace McSorley is, in Gus Johnson’s words, a wizard, so that could mean Penn State is 8-0 and top 5 by the time it heads to Ann Arbor in early-November. On the other hand, a Penn State team that struggles to find its footing could see itself 4-2 (or even 3-3) by the time it heads to Indiana. Even if this team is playing great ball by the end of the year, it still has to contend with a Michigan team it has struggled with and a particularly experienced Wisconsin team.
I’d love for this team to click immediately, fire on all cylinders, and add another year to the skyboxes in Beaver Stadium. I’m just not convinced that this team is experienced enough to handle it. We’ll have a better feel for this particular squad in mid-October, but for now, I see Penn State splitting its 4 games against the top tier of the B1G and dropping another along the way. 9-3 plus a bowl win to set up Touchdown Tommy Stevens’ run in 2019 is where this season lands.