With the early part of the off-season come all of the way-too-early rankings for next year. Across the board, Penn State is predicted to be a top 25/top 15 team.
Athlon has Penn State at #13.
ESPN has the Lions at #16.
SBNation has PSU at #14.
247 Sports is the most bullish, putting Penn State at #10.
Across the board, one consistent talking point comes up - how hard will it be to replace Trace McSorley?
Lightly recruited coming out of high school, Trace rewrote the record book at Penn State as a 3-year starter. The quarterback that he beat out all three of those years has been waiting in the wings, as Tommy Stevens looks to be the presumptive favorite to land the starting gig in 2019.
Most of these rankings, including things like the S&P+, put a LOT of weight on returning productivity, particularly in the passing game. Well, when you lose your starting quarterback, you tank in the rankings unfortunately. But how much worse will the Penn State passing game be in 2019?
Trace, for all of his heart, was never the most accurate passer. Compounded by a case of the dropsies by the wide receiving corps in 2018, and the passing game looked like a shell of its 2016 and 2017 self. Will Tommy Stevens and a mix of new faces catching the ball really be that much worse?
For me, the passing game will more than likely be fine. As I said, McSorley was never that accurate, and his arm strength left something to be desired (not that I think he was a noodle arm by any means, but there did seem to be a few times that a little extra zip may have led to a completion, rather than a pass break up). I personally think Stevens will be just as accurate, and with a stronger arm.
The real question for me is not returning production - I believe the rankings will prove fairly inaccurate, as the Lions climb into the top 10 no later than the end of September - but returning leadership. While Trace was never the super vocal leader a la Marcus Allen, he nonetheless got the team to believe in him and each other. I hope that Tommy can do the same.