There was no word limit on this one, baby. We have just under 4,000 words on what we think Penn State will be this season, so give yourself a solid 15 minutes and soak in our thoughts on a potential College Football Playoff run for the Nittany Lions.
PATRICK KOERBLER: 11-1
I wrestled with 10-2 or 11-1 for quite a while, but I talked myself into 11-1 for really four main reasons.
- A, this is the most talented team James Franklin has had. ESPN released a Top 100 players in college football ranking, and the Nittany Lions had seven players, which was tied for the most in the country with Michigan and Georgia. More than Ohio State, USC, Alabama, LSU, etc.
- Two, at media day, James Franklin made it a point to emphasize the overall depth within the program, highlighting that most position groups have a legitimate 2.5-to-3-deep that they can rely on.
- D, I believe in Drew Allar. I don’t know if he’s a Top 5 quarterback in the nation just yet, but in the Big Ten, I don’t think there are many QBs I’d rather have over him. JJ McCarthy perhaps just given the experience? I think that’s really it though.
- And lastly, I’m pathetic. I’m gullible. And I am ready to hurt, again.
When you combine all that (mostly the first three), that gives you a good base for a College Football Playoff contender: elite top-end talent, great depth (especially on the offensive and defensive fronts), and a quarterback who has a legitimate chance to be the best in the conference. Of course, Michigan can make similar claims and Ohio State is still Ohio State. But for all that is good in the world: this needs to be the year. I don’t even mean making the CFP — just go 11-1. If Penn State goes 11-1 and gets left out because of the Big Ten tiebreaker, so be it. But with this team and with this schedule, let’s at least get to that point.
ELI MORETA-FELIZ: 11-1
The last time I picked Penn State to finish better than 10-2, a global pandemic hit, Penn State’s two best players ended up not playing that season, and the Lions had their first losing season since “The Dark Years.” My mistake, however, was picking them to go undefeated.
I also said at this time last season that I wouldn’t pick them to finish better than 10-2 until they proved it on the field, but the landscape has changed enough to make this possibility more realistic:
1. Michigan comes to State College this season, a place where they needed a miracle to come out with a victory last time.2. Ohio State finds themselves in the same spot as Penn State, needing to shepherd in a new quarterback. They also have many new faces at OL (and are not quite jelled yet). They also have a new offensive coordinator (and yes, it’s Brian Hartline, but he’s still new at this role).
The rest of the schedule is nearly inconsequential at this point. Yes, Iowa loves to muddy games and force teams to make mistakes. Try that in a Whiteout.Yes, Illinois is the other side of the infamous 9OT debacle. Penn State’s offense and defense are better this season.Yes, Penn State has had trouble winning in East Lansing during Franklin’s tenure. They’re not playing in East Lansing.Yes, Maryland —lol come on now.
And last, but not least, Drew Allar, the guy everyone is acting like he wasn’t the No. 1 rated quarterback coming out of high school, is a sophomore now. He played 10 games last season. He learned from Sean Clifford in preparation for the full time role this season. He won’t be new to the college game come September 2nd, in the same way Justin Fields, C.J. Stroud, J.J. McCarthy, Quinn Ewers, and Tua Tagovailoa weren’t new to the game when they took over. How’d that work out for those five?
CHRIS LUCIA: 11-1
Like usual, I’m going to do this on a quarter of the season-by-quarter of the season basis, and we’ll see where the chips fall.
The Lions start at home against West Virginia at night, and while their offensive line looks to be a strength, their defense does not. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen run wild, giving Drew Allar the chance to get his feet under him without having to carry the team (1-0). Delaware won’t be competitive beyond the first quarter (2-0), then the Lions head on the road to take on Illinois. Last year the Illini relied heavily on their defense, and were just able to score enough points to win games. While still projected to be good, Illinois likely takes a step back on D, and their offense shouldn’t be able to score easily on the Lions (3-0, 1-0 in the Big Ten).
The following week Iowa comes to town for the night Whiteout, and while Cade McNamara is definitely an upgrade at quarterback, the rest of the team is largely in the same mold - good defense, bad offense. This one will be tough because it always is, but I like the Lions to pull away by late third quarter (4-0, 2-0). Northwestern was horrific last year and will likely be worse without Pat Fitzgerald (5-0, 3-0). A bye week followed by UMass will be plenty of time to recover any early-season injuries (6-0, 3-0).
To start the second half of the season, Penn State heads to Columbus. I believe the Lions can compete with the Buckeyes, but I’ve been burned too many times to predict a win. Another close game goes OSU’s way (6-1, 3-1). Indiana at home is a nice bounce-back game (7-1, 4-1), before heading on the road to play Maryland. The Terrapins are not bereft of talent, and have one of the better QBs in the conference, so I expect this game to be competitive. I’ll give the nod to the Lions, but don’t be surprised to see this one last into the fourth quarter (8-1, 5-1).
Michigan comes to town next, and the biggest hope here is that the Lions learned from last year’s loss. While the final score was likely indicative of how poorly the Lions played last year, let’s not forget that they had a lead in the third quarter. At home, with improved QB and defensive play, the Lions get the win to get the Michigan monkey off their back (9-1, 6-1). Rutgers is another chance to heal up (10-1, 7-1), before a neutral site game in Detroit against Michigan State. The Spartans have been a sticky opponent for the Lions more often than not, so once again I’ll avoid saying that this game will be easy. It likely remains competitive well into the second half, but the Lions out-talent their opponent to finish 11-1, 8-1 in the Big Ten.
JARED SLANINA: 11-1
I’m all in on this team for three simple reasons:
Playmakers. Depth. Attitude.
It’s no secret that Penn State has done well beating teams it should under James Franklin, but struggling to get over the top against the elite programs. It all came down to playmakers — Ohio State and others simply had the dudes to step up when they needed a play. The Nittany Lions have caught up in that regard, and now boast difference makers all over the field on both sides of the ball. I won’t go into great detail here, but we can all expect plenty from guys like Nicholas Singleton, Theo Johnson, Kaytron Allen, Abdul Carter, Kalen King, Chop Robinson, and many, many more to be difference-makers.
In more recent years, Penn State had to pin all of its hopes on a Saquon Barkley or Anthony Zettel to carry the day. It’s not just that they now have more difference-makers, but quality depth at nearly every position group makes this the best overall Nittany Lions squad in some time. Like any other team, Penn State will battle some attriction from September to November. Barring anything too severe, it won’t be enough to sink a season with thin position groups falling behind without their top performers on the field.
Talent and depth are necessary parts of the puzzle, but winning football games is never an easy task. The attitude the team displayed during its five-game win streak to close the season points to a program with an outstanding culture. The Nittany Lions exited to conference and playoff hunt at the end of October after its second loss of the season. However, the team managed to continue playing at a high level to close out the season strong and earn a trip to the Rose Bowl. It would have been somewhat understandable to see the team come out with a couple duds after the loss to Ohio State. Instead, they recommitted themselves and played to their potential as players grew from week to week.
This team is on a mission. They have the talent, depth, and attitude to go far in 2023.
Will Pegler: 11-1
Not since the summer of 2017 has a Penn State team had expectations this high. That is an exciting and scary prospect, but it is certainly for good reason. For starters, Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton are a proven one-two punch coming out of the backfield, and most see them having their way with defenses all year. On the other side of the ball, Penn State seems to be exactly what it always is – strong up front, supported by a couple of stud linebackers, all backed by a star in the making in the secondary (hello Kalen King!).
Even if the most talked about part of this group, sophomore Drew Allar, doesn’t live up to the absurd amount of hype that’s been placed upon him right away, the Nittany Lions’ shouldn’t have much trouble with any teams on their schedule besides two.
Ohio State and Michigan serve as the collective big brother to James Franklin and his team. However, Penn State will find a way to get out from that consistent shadow somewhat this season.
Michigan pushed the Nittany Lions around last year, and I don’t see the team taking a big enough jump to go from an embarrassing blowout to a win in just one season. But I do see this past offseason’s jump resulting in a win over the Buckeyes. There are questions surrounding the quarterback position in Columbus, and Manny Diaz’s defense can likely feast on some shaky play at that position in late October. That’ll take some hefty pressure off of Allar’s right arm, and he’ll play well enough for a win in a return to his home state.
I’ll leave things at 11-1 and include some blowout wins over inferior Big Ten opponents. From there, we might just have a spicy CFB discussion on our hands with Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan all in the mix. Buckle up, friends.
TIM AYDIN: 11-1
If this isn’t the year for Penn State to get at least a split between Ohio State and Michigan while avoiding stumbling against the remaining ten opponents they should be favored against, then when will it ever come to fruition? We’ve written ad nauseum on BSD and also read and heard from other PSU and non-PSU media outlets all Summer long about how this is the deepest and most talented team James Franklin has ever fielded and how focused and locked in the team has been during Fall camp. Now, it’s time for them to go out there and actually deliver the goods. Count me in as one of the believers. Whether 11-1 finally gets PSU over the College Football Playoff hump a year earlier than expected remains to be seen, but regardless, it would be considered a highly successful season.
Colin Murphy: 11-1
The early season schedule could be tricky, but I think Penn State gets to the Ohio State game 6-0. Illinois and Iowa will test them, particularly on offense, but this roster is more equipped to deal with the problems that cost them in 2021. The key will be for Allar and the receivers to start clicking as soon as possible. Opposing defensive coordinators will plan to stop the run; establishing a passing game will take pressure off Singleton and Allen.
All offseason the question has been: can Penn State get past Ohio State and Michigan? I’ll say they beat one of the two, but not both. Which of them Penn State beats a tough one to predict. Ohio State and Michigan are two very different teams schematically, as we all saw last season. Michigan is a tougher matchup with their power running game, but the game is at home and Penn State’s front 7 is much improved. Ohio State looks less daunting than Michigan on paper- particularly with question marks at QB, OL, and on defense, but the Nittany Lions will have to go to Columbus. I’ll say Penn State beats Ohio State but loses to Michigan.
Outside of Ohio State and Michigan, the back half of the schedule does not concern me. Unless Michigan State somehow comes back with a vengeance, I don’t see PSU losing that one. Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers will all be wins.
CARI GREENE: 11-1
This preseason, I’ve had a number of non-PSU fans make a point to reach out to me to say something to the effect of, Penn State’s gonna be pretty good this year, huh?
And while in the past, sentiments like that might make me nervous about the upcoming season—this year, I’m concerned about how unconcerned I am with the season.
As has been written about ad nauseam, this is CJF’s most talented and deepest roster in ten seasons—and the atmosphere and chemistry seem just as good as the players’ potential. Opposing teams may downplay Allar to their detriment, but even they can’t denigrate this talented and ready offensive line, a running back tandem that will rival some of the nation’s best, and a defense that looks to again be beastly. Losing two multi-year starters in the secondary to the draft, and I’m not worried about the defensive backfield? What kind of wizardry is this?
That being said, the end of the conference’s divisions can’t come soon enough for this girl, as once again the top three in the Big Ten East look poised to be some of the best teams in all of college football. This year, I think Penn State splits those two games, and likely not in the obvious way—Franklin gets his first win in Columbus, and the squad loses a very close one against the Wolverines on Veteran’s Day.
My prediction? 11-1 overall and a playoff berth, behind Big Ten champ (and undefeated) Michigan.
RYAN PARSONS: 10-2
My goodness, the excitement coming into this season is sky-high. Despite last year’s write-in losses to Michigan and Ohio State, Penn State seemed to exorcise its demons of James Franklin years’ past. No silly losses to Michigan State. No nine overtimes. No residual bad juju from the covid year. No mail-in bowl game performance.
Despite the two ugly losses, the Nittany Lions felt more…mature? Yeah, the 24-year-old starting quarterback may have had something to do with that. But, the program as a whole felt like it took a major step in the right direction. New AD, new president, two bonafide coordinators, a freaking Rose Bowl win. It feels like that trend continued into this offseason — even as Penn State lost some core veteran leadership. If 2021 was a fall from grace, 2022 was a return to prominence. The vibes are approaching an all-time high.
The team’s win total is set at 9.5, which means Vegas thinks this: the Nittany Lions are good for their typical Ohio State and Michigan losses, but the jury is still out on if they’ll avoid a dumb defeat to Iowa, West Virginia, or even Maryland. I think Penn State’s rock-solid defense, solidified backfield stars, and freaky NFL talent — combined with Franklin’s maturation as a coach and play caller — will be enough to avoid the dumb losses this year. But, as always, it’s going to come down to the Wolverines and Buckeyes.
I don’t think this is the year Penn State is going to pull it off, and I’m shifting my expectations to a 2024 playoff run (the expanded format doesn’t hurt). Simply put, the inexperience of Drew Allar combined with a lack of true WR1 will not be enough to get over the final hump. The defense will keep Penn State in every game, including Ohio State and Michigan. But, I need to see Allar actually do the thing that hasn’t been done since 2016 before I believe it.
You saw last year just how quickly an Ohio State upset can crumble. It was a five-point lead that turned into a 13-point loss in less than nine minutes. And that was with a four-year starter at the helm of the offense. Do I need to even talk about the Michigan game?
Still, a 10-2 record would be considered a massive success for Franklin and the program. It would mean that Penn State secured itself as a top-10 power and could very well be a favorite to win the Big Ten in 2024 with Allar, Kaytron Allen, Abdul Carter, and Nick Singleton all returning.
But, hey, maybe the Nittany Lions will prove me wrong. I still expect very close games between the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Anything can happen in Happy Valley.
BRIANT BENNETT: 10-2
This would appear, on paper, to be the best Penn State team since 2008 and the deepest Penn State roster since the mid-90s. James Franklin’s recruiting has paid off and this team seems poised to do great things. As fans, we are all 15-0 or GTFO, but it’s been the effusive praise from national media personalities (see Josh Pate of 24/7 sports and the B1G Network crew) that has me most excited to see this team take the field.
As always (and this is only my second season with BSD) I like to break down the schedule in terms of guaranteed wins, tricky games that should be wins, toss ups, and near guaranteed losses. Let’s start with those losses, I’ve got none. This team is good enough to beat anyone on its schedule and it’s in the playoff/title picture. I think the Illinois/Iowa back-to-back games are tricky. Illinois because it’s a road game and that defensive front is legit. Iowa, because it’s Iowa and we know the defense will be solid. Aside from that, Penn State’s depth and defense - and developing offense - should put them in great spots against anyone else...except for the two that you know.
Franklin has gone on record saying there are few questions with this team. But, I have two: Ohio State and Michigan. For all the great things that we are thinking about our favorite team, it’s likely those in Ann Arbor and Columbus are feeling the same. Plus, we are going to have to read this stat over and over: Penn State is 4-14 under Franklin against those two programs and Penn State hasn’t beaten both of them in the same season since 2008. The thinking-man fan would point out that it’s hard to knock Franklin for any losses that happened in 2014 and 2015. Meanwhile, in a disheartening stat, Penn State actually had second half leads in six of those 14 losses. The Lions are and have been knocking at the door of being an elite program that beaks through to again win the Big Ten and this time get to the four-team playoff. Many believe that 2023 can and will be that year.
But I’m in prove it mode. 10-2, 7-2 in the Big Ten.
Pessimist Lando is back, folks. I’m always nervous when my teams are hyped up before any games are played, and 2023 is no exception.
I’m equally tired of hearing Penn State fans boast about how WVU will be lucky to keep it within 30 points, and Mountaineer fans crow about how they will beat the Nittany Lions by two touchdowns. The home team has a slow start to the game, but Singleton, Allen, and the tight ends pick it up in the final three quarters to give Penn State a 20-point win.
After a win over Delaware, Drew Allar has his first road start in Champaign. Illinois will be tougher than in previous years, but the running game will push Penn State past them. Iowa will be competitive for a half, but won’t have the horses (you know, because they’re birds!) to run with the home team. The good guys close out September with a win over Northwestern to move to 5-0. A bye week and a breather against UMass follow, and the Blue and White will be 7-0 heading into a tougher stretch of the year.
Ohio State may not be as proven as in most seasons, but I don’t believe they are any less talented. Combine this with the timing of the game allowing for their quarterback to settle in, and the contest being played in the Shoe, and I can’t pick Penn State. The Nittany Lons recover from their first setback by taking their frustration out on much-improved Indiana and Maryland, and arrive to the Big Noon showdown with Michigan at 9-1.
Unlike last season, Penn State will keep the game with the Wolverines close the entire time, but the inability to stop Corum and Edwards will lead to their second defeat. The Nittany Lions again rebound by posting double-digit wins against Rutgers and Michigan State to end the regular season at 10-2, 7-2 in the conference.
I would love, love, love to be wrong. My thoughts about my two projected losses may change by the time those games arrive based on the team’s performance, but right now, I think another New Year’s Six appearance is in the cards.