Despite replacing a three-year starting quarterback in Trace McSorley, Penn State’s offense has potential to return to its high-flying ways from 2016 and 2017 when it ranked among the most prolific in college football. Heck, with the way James Franklin and co. have brought top-tier talent to Penn State in recent years (you’ll notice a recurring theme below), the offense has the potential to take a giant leap forward in 2019 and beyond. Here are five key players to watch on Saturday who could be helping the Nittany Lions light up the scoreboard for the next several seasons:
Zack Kuntz TE #82
Penn State returns Pat Friermuth, who has a strong chance of being first-team All-Big Ten this fall, as well as Nick Bowers, who has proven to be a reliable passcatcher whenever he’s on the field. But Kuntz is an intriguing prospect due to his size and athleticism. At 6-7, the possibilities seem endless when paired with one of the aforementioned tight ends, or in sets that take advantage of the height that Penn State possesses at receiver with Justin Shorter (6-4), Daniel George (6-2), and incoming receivers George Campbell (6-4) and Weston Carr (6-2). If Kuntz is ready to see the field in as a redshirt freshman, there is no shortage of ways for Ricky Rahne to locate obvious mismatches with so much height and athleticism on the field at once.
Justin Shorter WR #6
Many expected Shorter to take the college football world by storm as a true freshman. Unfortunately, injuries got in the way of him seeing action throughout the year. There should be no stopping Shorter now as he enters his redshirt freshman campaign. Shorter entered Penn State as one of the most ballyhooed wide receiver prospects in program history- a five-star prospect ranked as the top receiver in the nation, top prospect in New Jersey, and eighth overall player in the nation. Shorter has rare athleticism for his size at 6-4 and 226 lbs. Not only will he cause mismatches about any time he’s on the field, he has the game-breaking, big-play ability that can elevate the play of the entire offense and find production during those times where not much else is working.
C.J. Holmes RB #33
It will be interesting to see where Holmes fits into a crowded backfield. Holmes was a four-star prospect who is getting a second chance at Penn State after being dismissed by Notre Dame following his freshman season. He’ll have three years of eligibility, and will look to be a primary backup behind Ricky Slade. It sounds as though the staff is ready to move towards a running-back-by-committee approach to take advantage of the deep talent pool, so Holmes could become a key part of the offense if he is able to prove himself ahead of the season.
Noah Cain RB #21
Cain is another running back seeking carries in 2019, and just may be ready to deliver as a true freshman, following in the footsteps of Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade. If you’ve taken a moment to watch Cain’s film, it’s easy to see why so many are high on his ability to contribute immediately in the fall. Not only did he prove himself at a high level while playing for IMG Academy, he comes to Penn State as a top 100 overall prospect and sixth running back in his class who spurned offers from Auburn, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, and many more. Even with many talented options at running back, Cain may prove too valuable to keep off the field.
Rasheed Walker OT #53
As BSD user L.O.T.M. stated in MMQB regarding which player you’re most excited to see play- Walker is “the right, albeit least sexy answer.” While he won’t be making one-handed catches down the sideline like Shorter or juking defenders out of their shoes like Cain, Walker could be a major piece in Penn State’s long overdue transformation of the offensive line. The 6-6, 314 lb. redshirt freshman is currently battling for the starting right tackle spot, and Saturday will be a prime opportunity to show why he was so highly-coveted. Walker entered Penn State rated as the 65th best overall prospect and sixth offensive tackle. He appeared in four games as a true freshman, including the final three, and now could be poised to become a breakout star on offense.