The 2023 season could open up a special two year window for Penn State football. Penn State fans, members of the local media, the national media, and a lot of people who know more about football than yours truly all believe the Nittany Lions will be legitimate National Champion contenders the next two seasons.
Due to sophomore quarterback Drew Allar, as well as arguably the best running back duo in the country in Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen, as well as their classmates such as Dani Dennis-Sutton, Abdul Carter, and Drew Shelton many people believe the 2024 season will be their best chance of the two seasons to win it all. However, that may not be the case.
There is a strong argument to be made that the 2023 season will be the season of the two in which they have the best chance to win a National Championship. In my opinion, the 2023 season will be James Franklin’s best chance yet at winning a National Championship. This is because of Penn State’s defense.
Outside of maybe defensive tackle Manny Diaz’s defense has no question marks this season. There is an argument to be made that Penn State’s defense will not only be the best in the Big Ten this season, but be in the conversation for the best defense in the FBS.
Sure it’s reasonable to believe Penn State’s offense may peak in explosiveness in 2024, but the 2024 defense will likely take a big step backward. The last time Penn State had a roster that was overall this talented was 2017.
That 2017 team, however, did not have a true game wrecker on defense. Penn State’s 2023 defense could have three of those in Carter, Dennis-Sutton, and Chop Robinson. Additionally, Kalen King is an All-American candidate and potential CB1 in the 2024 NFL Draft, while Adisa Isaac, Johnny Dixon, and Curtis Jacobs are all players likely entering their final season as Nittany Lions who should go high in next spring’s draft.
Pass rusher and cornerback, especially the latter, will see their positional rooms take a big hit after this season. Carter will return at linebacker, but Jacobs will be a big loss. There will be even more question marks at defensive tackle in 2024 than 2023. The time to pounce is now.
It’s not just the defense. Penn State’s offensive line in 2023 could be one of the best in the Big Ten, potentially the entire FBS. Led by the potential top offensive lineman in next spring’s draft - Old Fashanu - it will be an experienced, deep group. It’s also a group set to see a lot of players move on to the NFL following this season.
Penn State will still be a National Championship contender in 2024. Even with losing players off the offensvie line, the offense will still likely take a step forward. The defense, however, will undoubtedly take a step backward in 2024.
Additionally, if Penn State’s defense accomplishes anything close to what is expected this season the odds of Diaz still being around in 2024 are very slim. So, in addition to replacing multiple key players, the Nittany Lions may also be looking to replace one of the best defensive coordinators in college football.
2023 will likely be the best combination of offense and defense at Penn State in the Franklin Era. This could be a better combination than what will be seen in 2024 as well. Obviously a lot has to go right, but led by an elite defense 2023 could be the year Penn State’s National Championship drought finally ends.