The Penn State Nittany Lions are No. 21 in the rankings. Here are five things that matter heading into Penn State’s 2016 season.
The pressure is about to be on
James Franklin was walking into a tough situation when he took over the Penn State gig, but in Year 3 following two 7-6 seasons, the rumblings are growing louder that the superpower must soon restore the glory – even with the controversy that continues to hang around.
Considering Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State are going to be terrific again, Penn State has to try to find its way in the Big Ten East world and be more of a factor – even though the scholarship restrictions and the other problems that hamstrung the program are just now going away.
Welcome, Joe Moorhead
The offense will be better even without quarterback Christian Hackenberg around anymore. Former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead will take over the offensive coordinator duties, and he’s got the talent at running back and receiver to get it all going right away. The line that was such a problem last year is at least experienced, and while Trace McSorley might not be a talent like Hackenberg, he’s a good fit for Moorhead’s sped-up attack.
Linebacker U will kick it back in
The Penn State defense was absolutely fabulous last season, finishing 14th overall – this despite not getting any help from the offense. The line needs a ton of work, but there’s enough to count on to expect a good year. The secondary will be solid, and the defense as a whole will be strong, but it’s the linebacking corps that’ll dominate starting with Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell – likely on the outside – and thumper Nyeem Wartman-White in the middle. These three might form the Big Ten’s best trio.
Again, the offense has to work
Penn State got close to being okay thanks to its defense, but there’s no chance of making any sort of move unless the offense starts to pull its weight. At the very least, it convert on third down while getting more out of the line and hoping the quarterback play can be steadier. Even a wee bit of an improvement should make all the difference in a big step forward season finishing …
What’s going to happen?
A 9-3 record. There won’t be a gaffe against Temple again, and the schedule is just light enough with home games against Minnesota and Maryland – and road trips to Purdue, Rutgers and Indiana – to expect more than seven wins. Traveling to Michigan is rough, but Ohio State and Michigan State have to come to Happy Valley. Split those two, and the Franklin era gets its kickstart.