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Five Things I Know I Know About Penn State Football’s 2021 Season

Here we go again.

Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Dating back to the 2017 season, I have been tasked with coming up with five things I know I know about Penn State football. The premise is a bit subjective, but relatively simple: not super obvious predictions, nor completely bold predictions, but nonetheless still things I believe will happen. My record the last four seasons? Uh...

2017 (0-5)

1. Shareef Miller and Manny Bowen will be 1st Team All-B1G — L
2. Lamont Wade will lead the team in INTs with 4 — L
3. Bates & McGovern will both be 1st Team All-B1G — L
4. Saquon Barkley will run for 300+ yards in 2 games — L
5. PSU will win the Big Ten (again) — L

2018 (0-5)

1. Tariq Castro-Fields will make 1st Team All-B1G — L
2. Jan Johnson will lead the team in tackles — L
3. Justin Shorter will have 40+ receptions — L
4. Hamler will return 2 punts for TDs — L
5. PSU won’t make a FG beyond 40 yards — L

2019 (0-5)

1. CJ Thorpe will get thrown out/will be the reason for someone getting thrown out of a game — L
2. Fries will make 1st Team All-B1G — L
3. Penn State’s defense will get 50+ sacks — L
4. Damion Barber leads DTs in sacks — L
5. Joe Moorhead will be Penn State’s head coach by mid-December — L

2020 (0-5)

1. Pat Freiermuth will have double-digit receiving touchdowns — L
2. Adisa Isaac will lead Penn State in sacks — L
3. Cam Sullivan-Brown will be Penn State’s second leading wide receiver — L
4. Brandon Smith will make 1st Team All-B1G — L
5. CJ Thorpe will get thrown out/will be the reason for someone getting thrown out of a game — L

So 0-20. Listen, I’m apparently not very good at this. Hand up, I took Emeka Okafor and Caron Butler. They aren’t bad players. These aren’t bad picks. Ryan Gomes was 270 pounds in high school. Justin Shorter was the top wide receiver in his recruiting class. Okay?

But I’m back for another year because I will never surrender until I get one of these correct. Just one. That’s all I want. Just one.

Arnold Ebiketie will finish with double-digit sacks

I’ve had some bad luck when it comes to predicting something regarding sacks. In 2019, I predicted that Damian Barber would lead the Nittany Lions defensive tackles in sacks; he ended the season with none. Last year, I had Adisa Isaac leading the way; he only had 1.5, finishing behind Shaka Toney and Shane Simmons.

Well, I’m going back to the well again because as the saying goes: fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, okay you got me again. There’s no way I can be fooled a third time, though, because I really like Arnold Ebiketie. First and foremost, the production is there — he’s coming off a six-game season with Temple where he put up 4 sacks and 8.5 TFLs. If that had been a normal season, Ebiketie would have finished with some gaudy numbers: around 9 sacks and 18 TFLs.

Going from the AAC to the Big Ten, the step up in competition is obvious. But Ebiketie enrolled back in January, was able to add a solid 15 pounds of mass thanks to Dwight Galt, and as he told me during media day, he feels much more prepared to play a big role for Penn State after taking part in spring practices.

Both Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington will have at least 60 receptions

This doesn’t sound too crazy, right? Injuries aside, Jahan Dotson is a stone-cold lock to break this, so all I’m looking for is Parker Washington — coming off a very strong sophomore season — to hit that 60-catch plateau. Well, it turns out that having two receivers eclipse 60 receptions is pretty dang hard. In the last 10 seasons, here’s what we have from some of college football’s elite:

  • Oklahoma: 3 times (2018, 2012, 2011)
  • Alabama: 2 times (2019 and 2015)
  • Clemson: 2 times (2016 and 2011)
  • Ohio State: 1 time (2018)

So yes, pretty uncommon! But for Penn State, I think things will fall into place for it to be semi-realistic. First and foremost, as I said above, Dotson will reach the 60-catch plateau. If he doesn’t, sound the alarms because we have a major issue in Happy Valley. So this will really come down to Parker Washington, who if he played a normal 13-game season last year, would have finished with 52 receptions. So we’re basically asking the question: will Washington be more involved in the offense this year? Not that hard of a question to answer.

On top of that, Washington will also be aided by the fact that Penn State’s other receiving options aren’t that great. I like the tight end duo of Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson, and I think KeAndre Lambert-Smith will make a nice jump this season — but it’s not like the Nittany Lions have a plethora of major targets, a la 2017 when four Nittany Lions finished with 53-57 receptions.

Marquis Wilson will score an offensive touchdown and record an interception in the same game

This is probably my most out there one, but I don’t get paid $1,000 per article to go with all moderate takes.

The rising junior athlete is just that — he’s listed as an “athlete” according to Penn State Athletics, certainly the first time I can recall someone with that moniker here at Penn State. Wilson played cornerback the first two seasons in Happy Valley, before practicing with the wide receivers during spring camp. At this past weekend’s media day, defensive coordinator Brent Pry confirmed that Wilson would get most of his work with the cornerbacks this fall camp, but could still have a role on offense.

Even going back to his film as a junior in high school, two things stuck out about Wilson: one, he knew how to make a play on the ball, and secondly, he was electric when the ball was in his hands. So sign me up for Wilson to have a breakout day (likely against a lower-tier school like Villanova or Michigan) this season, where he scores a touchdown on offense and records an interception on defense.

Sean Clifford will throw at least 30 touchdowns

Fun fact: Penn State has never had a quarterback throw at least 30 touchdowns in one season. Trace had back-to-back seasons 29 and 28. Daryll Clark and Matt McGloin capped out at 24 a piece. Kerry Collins best season was 21 in 1994. Todd Blackledge threw 22 in 1982, which probably equals out to about 55 in today’s game, but we aren’t taking inflation into account.

So if Clifford does this, he’ll be making Penn State history. Does that mean I am totally on the Clifford Train? Eh, not exactly. I mean, I do believe Clifford will be better this year. Just from having an actual regular offseason, being able to have normal practices, and the presence of Mike Yurcich, I think we’ll see an improved Clifford.

But is Clifford the guy who can lead Penn State to the College Football Playoff? That remains to be seen. And by the end of the 2021 season — even if he surpasses 30 touchdowns — I don’t know if that answer will change.

Penn State won’t start 3-0

Ah man, it would be a real shame if my streak continues by Penn State starting the season 3-0. *wink wink*