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Penn State Football 2020 Season Predictions: Roundtable

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Time to put our money where our mouth is.

Purdue v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It’s been perhaps the wackiest college football offseason in memory, but come hell or high water, the season has arrived. This coming Saturday, Penn State will kickoff its season against Indiana, so with that being the case, it’s time that the BSD Staff puts out our season predictions.


MARTY LEAP

Pre-COVID I was extremely bullish on this team. They were slated to be the most talented that James Franklin has had in Happy Valley and probably the most talented team Penn State has had since 1994. Throw in getting Ohio State at home, a very manageable cross over schedule, the offense having spring ball and an entire off-season to get humming with new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, and a defense being led by Heisman candidate and the best defensive player in college football in Micah Parsons, and I truly believed the Nittany Lions were going to go 12-1, win the Big Ten and reach the College Football Playoff.

Now, things look much different. Big Ten stadiums will not be packed with fans this fall, teams will only play 8 regular season games, plus one conference championship game weekend even if it is not the one for all the Big Ten marbles, and Penn State will be without Parsons. First and foremost, without a White Out crowd and Parsons, my prediction for the Penn State/Ohio State game swings in favor of the Buckeyes. But outside of that game, Penn State could be favored in each of their other 7 scheduled games.

Even without Parsons, this defense should still be very good. PJ Mustipher and Antonio Shelton could be the best defensive tackle duo in the Big 10, and the defensive end trio of Shaka Toney, Jayson Oweh and Adisa Isaac should terrorize quarterbacks. While Brent Pry will have to figure which linebacker will be on the field now with Brandon Smith in nickel situations, this could be the best secondary he has had yet if the safeties play well.

Offensively it will all come down to the passing game. Penn State has arguably the best running back room in the FBS and one of the top offensive lines in the Big Ten. Running the ball will not be an issue, neither will Pat Freiermuth and the tight ends. Can Sean Clifford take the next step under Ciarrocca’s guidance? Will two or three wide receievers emerge to compliment Jahan Dotson and Freiermuth? If the answers to those questions are yes, Penn State is very capable of winning the Big Ten and reaching the CFP. But until I see those things happen I can’t believe it, especially coming off such a strange off-season.

Give me 7-2 for the Nittany Lions this fall.


CHRIS LUCIA

Prior to the season, I very well may have hopped on the 12-0 or GTFO train. As Marty said, Penn State had a LOT of things in its favor. Now Parsons is gone, and the offense hasn’t had as much time to jell. So let’s see what I got, on a game-by-game basis.

Starting off at Indiana is a rough way to begin a season, but I have to think at a minimum the Lions can just out-talent the Hoosiers (1-0). The Buckeyes managed to return every one of their star players (good for you OSU!), but the game is still at PSU. I’ll play the odds on this one and say the Lions lose, but legitimately would not be surprised with a win (1-1). Easy win against Maryland at home (2-1) before heading to Nebraska; if the Huskers ever figure out offense, they could be dangerous, but I’ll believe it when I see it (3-1).

Home against Iowa, and I’m unconcerned by the Hawkeyes not being at Kinnick (4-1). The second toughest game of the season comes next at Michigan, but I actually like the Lions a lot more than the Wolverines. It’ll be a tough out, but the lack of home field advantage actually comes in handy, and PSU wins it (5-1). A couple of cupcakes to finish the season at Rutgers (6-1) and at home against MSU (7-1).

Just for funsies, I’ll assume in my above scenario that OSU goes 8-0, and then plays the winner of the West for the B1G championship. This season, everyone gets a ninth game against their peer in the standings, so my headcanon is a redemption game against Minnesota. Ciarrocca against his former team, and if the Lions win, they end the season at 8-1, with an outside shot of sneaking into the playoffs.

8-1 for me, please!


LANDO

Pessimist Lando never thought Penn State would go undefeated, even with the aforementioned No. 11 in the second level of the defense. However, in this nine-game season, good things will still happen.

The Nittany Lions win a hard-fought affair against Indiana, with the Hoosiers keeping it close enough to make us at BSD want to mute a certain fellow writer for the duration...

Now we come to the big showdown under the lights at an empty Beaver Stadium against Ohio State. If fans are in the bleachers, I think Penn State wins. Since they aren’t, Justin Fields and Co. eke out a win by just three, despite a heroic effort from Sean Clifford, the LawnBoyz, and the under-fire secondary. I wouldn’t be surprised if the defense forces at least one turnover. The good guys rebound to dismantle the Terps, and then beat Nebraska by two scores in Lincoln, and Iowa by at least 17.

The same way that Penn State would benefit from the crowd edge against Ohio State makes me more confident that Michigan is destined to fall at the Big House (Although let’s be real, do they have an advantage at home like OSU and PSU might?). At 5-1, James Franklin’s squad thumps Rutgers and MSU to finish out at 7-1.

Week 9 puts Penn State against likely the second-place finisher in the West, so whether it’s Wisconsin, Nebraska, or Minnesota, mark that W down.

I’ll second the 8-1.


CARI GREENE

I’m sticking with 7-2, and have nothing but logic to back this up.

Most of us are predicting a loss to Ohio State—a game whose outcome I would absolutely flipped if there were going to be fans in the stadium for the white out, even if Parsons still was playing. Oh well, c’est la vie, OSU has all of their Dudes returning and won’t have to play in the toughest environment in college football, so they’ll get that win.

Other folks are saying PSU will lose to Iowa and MSU, and to those people I ask what crack they are smoking. James Franklin has yet to lose to Iowa while at Penn State, and I’ll continue to pick his teams in that matchup until it’s proven unwise to do so. As for the Spartans, well, Mark Dantonio is gone, and with resurgent other programs in the East, with him has gone a lot of the magic on the gridiron in East Landing. I am sure Mel Tucker is a fine coach. He is, however, not on Dantonio’s level and MSU will take another step back this year.

Which leaves us with Michigan. Now, Jim Harbaugh is indisputably the face of third place, but similar to my prediction above re: Iowa, Franklin has yet to win in the Big House (with the only competitive game coming in 2014, prior to Harbaugh’s hiring). Until Franklin can show he can win in Ann Arbor, I’ll predict a loss in this one in the even years.

As for the ninth undetermined game, well, lol. We’ll win that one too, whoever it is.


ELI

9-0. Yes, it’s a homer pick, but this is not the cheeky “56-17” kind of pick. This is actually the first time I genuinely believe it to be possible. Most of the elements that made the 2020 season have great potential are still there. A great hire at offensive coordinator. Lots of returning experience on offense. A defense that gets more and more talented as years go by. And, of course, the knowledge that they can compete with the best of the Big Ten year in and year out.

The loss of Micah Parsons hurts, yes, but Micah alone wasn’t the reason 2020 was going to be great. Covid took a lot of joy away, part of that being fans in the stadium, but the sliver lining now is that Ohio State has to play Penn State as the second game of the season. Penn State will know, right away, where they stand this season, and I think home field advantage still counts, even without fans.

It’s been a crazy season so far, of course. We’ve seen the Sun Belt beat up on the Big 12. We’ve seen the defending national champions look like a JV squad at times. Notre Dame is an actual member of the ACC this year! But, in a weird way, it’s the craziness of the season that puts me at ease. All of the crazy scenarios that have kept the Nittany Lions out of the College Football Playoff in “normal” years are now the norm. I think the Lions are versed in craziness by now, and they’ll know how to overcome the challenges ahead.

That’s why I’m on the 11-0 or GTFO train. For real this time.


PATRICK KOERBLER

2020 was shaping up to be *the* season for Penn State. It was returning an experienced quarterback that was now teamed with one of the best offensive minds and quarterback coaches in the game. The offensive line was filled with experience and would be blocking for the best running back group in the country. While Penn State had question marks at wide receiver, it didn’t lack for pass-catchers, as Pat Freiermuth spurned the NFL for one more season in the NFL. Defensively, it returned five full-time starters with some ridiculously talented players (PJ Mustipher, Jayson Oweh, Brandon Smith, Jaquan Brisker, the 2019 cornerbacks, etc.) ready to take over as full-fledged starters — all being led by the best defensive player in college football.

Plus, the schedule looked favorable. Penn State had road tilts at Virginia Tech, Michigan, and Nebraska, but welcomed Iowa and Ohio State to Beaver Stadium — the latter of which would have, once again, been the best atmosphere of the college football season.

The fortunate thing? Most of what I said up there hasn’t changed. Sean Clifford is still here with new OC/QB coach Kirk Ciarroca. The offensive line is still a strong unit. The running back room is still stacked. PJ Mustipher, Jayson Oweh, Brandon Smith, and Co. could still end up First-Team All-Big Ten members by season’s end.

Of course, the major changes are big ones: no Micah Parsons and no fans. Now sure, the “no fans” thing could also benefit Penn State as it travels to Michigan and Nebraska. But my goodness, I’ll happily go to Nebraska and Michigan (and Virginia Tech!) with a packed house if it meant Penn State gets 110,000 for the Ohio State game.

Let’s be clear: Penn State can still go 9-0 this season. Even with the loss of Parsons, this is still the most talented Nittany Lion team top-to-bottom in quite some time. But with the change to the schedule, lack of fans, and losing the best defensive player in college football, I struggle to see this team getting through the season undefeated.

I’ll go 8-1 with the lone loss being to Ohio State. Good enough for a College Football Playoff birth? We shall see.


CLAY SAUERTIEG

There’s not a ton of logical sense in picking Penn State go 9-0 this year. The team has some flaws and is without a generational talent for the program in Micah Parsons. But then again, what else has been logical about this year?

Penn State has the best offensive line its had since at least 2012. It has the best stable of running backs in the entire country. It has a tight end that is going to be an All-American, and a quarterback that is going to take a large step forward under Kirk Ciarrocca.

Additionally, the Nittany Lions still have a damn good front seven with a potentially freakish pass rush that can roll four deep. On the back end, they’ve got ball hawking defensive backs that play with a swagger not seen since the days of Anwar Phillips and Alan Zemaitis. They have the best special teams coach in the country as well a an experience kicker and a punter that just boots absolute piss missiles.

Penn State is going to enter the College Football Playoff at 9-0, change my mind.


TIM AYDIN

To be honest, I’m just excited that I’ll be watching Penn State football in 2020, something I did not think was going to happen for a long while. In an alternate universe where COVID never happens and PSU has the backing of 107,000-plus screaming fans in a White Out against Ohio State, I like the Nits’ chances at pulling off the upset. Unfortunately, in this universe, that is not the case, so I think OSU prevails. On the other hand, I like James Franklin to earn his first win at the Big House in Michigan, thanks to a lack of fans (yes, I know they weren’t the loudest most intimidating crowd to begin with, but still a difference without them).

PSU should win the other games on their schedule, especially with Kirk Ciarrocca now calling the shots on offense and Phil Trautwein ready to get the most out of what may be the most talented and veteran O-line yet in the Franklin era. That being said, playing at Indiana to open the season will be a tricky one, given their history of giving PSU all they can handle in Bloomington. Not to mention they will likely draw Wisconsin or Minnesota in that 9th game if they are as successful as I think they will be.

Gun to my head, I’m saying 8-1 with an at-large bid to the CFP. Go big or go home.

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JARED SLANINA

Penn State is set up for success in 2020, and has the make-up to do something special. An experienced quarterback, veteran offensive line, stable of talented running backs and one of the nation’s finest tight ends should light up scoreboards, but gives them a chance to play ground-and-pound and keep offenses on the sideline. The linebacker corps should be among the best in the nation despite losing Micah Parsons, and the secondary and defensive line are both an impressive blend of proven veterans and younger players with massive upsides. The special teams units improved immensely in 2019 under Joe Lorig, and should be a strength thanks to the return of Jordan Stout, Jake Pinegar and the emergence of several speedy return men.

However, there are a couple things holding me back from predicting an undefeated season, playoff berth or conference championship. The most pressing question is if this team can get back over the hump and take down the mighty Buckeyes. I’ll need to see it happen again before confidently predicting a victory against the three-time defending Big Ten champs. Penn State was able to give standout Ohio State team a scare in Columbus a year ago, but the prior two seasons saw the Nittany Lions outplay the Buckeyes for the most part of each game, only to have the playmakers on Ohio State make the difference in the closing minutes.

The other thing that gives me pause is the overall chaos of 2020. From what’s happened in the first month of college football, upsets may become the norm much more so this season. While the Nittany Lions have been a steady team that comes in prepared week-to-week under James Franklin, it seems like one of those years where all the bounces will go the other way one week. My guess would be the road trip to Nebraska on Nov. 14, or perhaps they trip up in one of the back-to-back games against Iowa or Michigan.

I’ll cautiously go with 7-2, with a hopeful chance of being pleasantly surprised.