The long, cold off season is here, and with it comes the usual batch of articles - including way too early posts!
MMQB asks - how do you feel about the 2019 season?
Let’s start with the good news - the depth chart is stacked. James Franklin has been recruiting like a mad man since he got here in 2014, and we’ll finally see the true fruits of his labor in 2019. There are blue chip players at every level of the roster, meaning that when a starter needs to head off the field for a break, the backup will be just as talented (if slightly less experienced).
The bad news is Penn State lost some key players both to graduation and early declarations for the NFL.
On offense, QB Tommy Stevens is set to take the reins, and Ricky Slade will be the feature back. Receiver will feature KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson, and Justin Shorter, among others. Pat Freiermuth is back at tight end, joining Nick Bowers and Zack Kuntz. Perhaps most importantly, receivers coach David Corley has been replaced by Gerad Parker - so here’s hoping the drops that plagued the receivers in 2018 will become a thing of the past.
The biggest loss for the offense was three starters - Connor McGovern and Ryan Bates both opted to head for the NFL, while Juwan Johnson has decided to transfer. The two linemen brought stability, and their skill will need to be replaced by young players like Mike Miranda, C.J. Thorpe, Rasheed Walker, and newcomer Anthony Whigan. Johnson was expected to make a giant leap in 2018, but plagued by drops, he never seemed to recover, and has decided to move on. Brandon Polk, a rotational receiver, will not be back either.
On defense, Robert Windsor and Yetur Gross-Matos will anchor the line, but with Kevin Givens and Shareef Miller leaving early, a new starter at DT and DE will need to make their presence known. Look for PJ Mustipher and Shaka Toney to put their names in the hat for those respective positions.
At linebacker, Cam Brown, Jan Johnson, and Micah Parsons are all back, while only Koa Farmer departs. Ellis Brooks, Jesse Luketa, and incoming freshman Brandon Smith will all provide star-studded depth.
And at defensive back, Nick Scott and Amani Oruwariye are gone to graduation, and unfortunately it appears that both Lamont Wade and Zech McPhearson will be transferring as well. Wade was considered one of the favorites to land the open safety position, and McPhearson had been steadily climbing the depth chart. It appears likely that Tariq Castro-Fields will take over at cornerback opposite John Reid, and that Jonathan Sutherland will lead the charge to start at safety with Garrett Taylor.
The special teams have been up and down - Blake Gillikin has been stellar, but true freshman kicker Jake Pinegar has had some field goal issues. 2019 will be Gillikin’s last in the blue and white, and I expect Pinegar to improve during his sophomore campaign. Perhaps if some special teams coaching changes occur, 2019 could be a fun year.
Here’s how the schedule plays out:
Week 1 - vs Idaho Vandals
Week 2 - vs Buffalo Bulls
Week 3 - vs Pitt Panthers
Week 4 - BYE
Week 5 - at Maryland Terrapins (Friday)
Week 6 - vs Purdue Boilermakers
Week 7 - at Iowa Hawkeyes
Week 8 - vs Michigan Wolverines
Week 9 - at Michigan State Spartans
Week 10 - BYE
Week 11 - at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Week 12 - vs Indiana Hoosiers
Week 13 - at Ohio State Buckeyes
Week 14 - vs Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Let’s break it down, using the two bye weeks as obvious places to split up the season.
In the first third, no team is overly daunting. Idaho is FCS, Buffalo lost its star QB, and Pitt, bless their hearts, just doesn’t have the players that Penn State does. I see no reason why the Lions can’t start 3-0.
After the first bye, the team visits Maryland on a Friday, followed by Purdue at home. The loss to Auburn showed me that Purdue is very mortal, and so I’m going with 5-0 to start the season.
Then comes undoubtedly the toughest 3-week stretch of the season at Iowa, vs Michigan, and at Michigan State. Iowa and Michigan both lost a bunch of good players, while Michigan State just seems to be a thorn in Franklin’s side. It’s not impossible to get through this stretch unscathed, but I’m gonna say they go 2-1. Kinnick Voodoo™ is real.
Following the second bye, two easier games face the Lions before the big showdown with Ohio State. Being that it’s on the road, I’m going to assume at the moment that the good guys take an L, before the third bye week to end the season.
Right now, I’m looking at 10-2. Depending on how the spring and summer go, I could be talked up to 11-1 or down to 9-3.
If the departures are easily replaced by the excellent recruiting Franklin has done, 2019 could be really fun. If there’s just too much turnover, it could be 2018 redux, looking ahead to 2020.
Time will tell!