Unfortunately, my annual Fearless Predictions post didn’t make it off my work pile until after week one. However, since Saturday is the start of Penn State’s FBS schedule, it seems appropriate to still publish even with the first game of the season under our belts.
Without any further ado, my five fearless predictions for 2019 that we will revisit after the season, when you may point and laugh as necessary:
Sean Clifford Named First or Second-Team All-Big Ten
During early summer, subjective lists reign supreme as there is little-to-no actual college football news to discuss. When the inevitable slew of “Ranking the Big Ten QBs” arrived, Sean Clifford typically appeared at #10 or 11 out of 14. Fair enough, as Clifford is entering his his first season as starter with just seven pass attempts to his name. However, despite the tiny sample size, Clifford never looked like a redshirt freshman taking his first snaps. In fact, when Clifford entered the Citrus Bowl in relief of Trace McSorley, most assumed he would simply hand the ball off. Instead, Clifford stepped back and delivered a 50-yard bomb right into the hands of the receiver (we won’t go into detail about what happened once it hit the receiver's hands...).
Clifford will need to develop chemistry with a new batch of wide receivers, but will be surrounded by plenty of talent throughout the offense to make his life easier as he takes over for Trace McSorley, the all-time winningest quarterback in program history. Once Clifford gets some games under his belt to fully take command of the offense, there will be no denying he is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference - perhaps THE best.
Micah Parsons Leads Nation in Forced Fumbles
Parsons had an outstanding true freshman campaign, leading the team in tackles despite being a back-up to Koa Farmer at outside linebacker. Parsons’ improvement was steady, and by the end of the season you could see how much the game was slowing down for him. This year, he’ll make the leap from steady contributor to full-blown difference-maker. He has an usual combination of athleticism that makes him stand out, and his combined speed, ability to hit like a ton of bricks and steady development means that he’ll become accustomed to separating the ball from the ballcarrier on a frequent basis in 2019.
Florida defense end Jachai Polite led the nation with six forced fumbles a year ago. Parsons will raise the bar with seven to become the statistical leader for the 2019 season.
KJ Hamler Scores Two Return Touchdowns
Hamler didn’t have a return touchdown last season, but came awfully close to breaking one on several occasions. Hamler is one of the most flat-out explosive players this side of Ted Ginn Jr. and Percy Harvin, and seems to have found an extra gear (if that’s even possible) heading into his redshirt sophomore year.
He will now be handling punt return duties in addition to kickoff returns. It almost seems like a safe bet that Kamler will reach the end zone twice while pulling double-duty on returns.
Penn State Sweeps the State of Michigan
Two of Penn State’s most crucial games will occur in consecutive weeks in late-October. The Nittany Lions host Michigan on Oct. 19, followed by a trip to East Lansing on Oct. 26.
I’m not sure where all the preseason hype is coming for Michigan, as we’ve seen regular predictions for a Big Ten crown and playoff appearance by the Wolverines. Jim Harbaugh is still trying to build an identity on offense that has been sluggish and inconsistent during his tenure. The defense will also need to replace plenty of talent from a year ago, and it will be a tough task for the newcommers to play at the level of Devin Bush, Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary.
Michigan State has produced two stinging upsets against the Nittany Lions that have derailed their playoff hopes in each of the past two seasons. They’ll once again have a stingy defense that can remove any offense out of its comfort zone. And like always, they’ll play to the level of the competition. However, this team will exorcise its demons and finally play to its potential against the Spartans this season.
Penn State Wins a NY6 Bowl
First off, I have Penn State going 10-2 during the regular season, with losses to Iowa and Ohio State. Sure, there are plenty of new faces on an offense that already needs improvement, but I’m high on several players having breakout seasons and the offense getting back to the explosiveness we saw in 2016 and 2017.
The oddsmakers may not agree, however. Their win tracker currently has Penn State set at 8.5 for the season but there could be some movement if the Nittany Lions impress again on week two. Check in with this site as we edge closer to the meat of the schedule.
If my win total becomes reality, Penn State will be heading to a NY6 Bowl for the third time in four seasons. A win would also give them three 11-win seasons in four years. Not bad when considering all the relative youth of the offense this season, and downright spectacular when considering where the program was at when James Franklin arrived in State College.