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The Penn State Nittany Lions haven’t had as much success in James Franklin’s first two seasons as fans had hoped. They have put together back-to-back lackluster 7-6 campaigns the past two seasons and really need to start showing some progress in 2016.

A lack of offense has been the biggest culprit as Christian Hackenberg simply did not live up to expectations in his time here. Maybe moving on from him could be exactly what the doctor ordered to light a fire into the offense.

Franklin should have his best team yet in 2016 with 14 starters returning and only 18 lettermen lost. Coaches usually make their most progress in Year 3. Helping matters is the fact that the sanctions are gone and this team should finally have some nice depth. Let’s see how the Nittany Lions will fare this coming season.

Last Season
Big Ten East
Record
ATS Record
Over/Under
Points For
Points Against
4th
7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)
4-9
5-8
23.2
21.8
2016 Penn State Nittany Lions Schedule
Date Opponent
Spread (Est.)
Win Chance
9/3 Kent State
9/10 @ Pittsburgh
9/17 Temple
9/24 @ Michigan
10/1 Minnesota
10/8 Maryland
10/22 Ohio State
10/29 @ Purdue
11/5 Iowa
11/12 @ Indiana
11/19 @ Rutgers
11/26 Michigan State
Estimated Wins: TBD
Offense

After averaging just 20.6 and 23.2 points per game the past two seasons, respectively, the Nittany Lions can only improve offensively. Franklin finally has the mobile QB he covets in sophomore Trace McSorley, who threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of their TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia. He’ll have to fend off talented freshman Tommy Stevens this fall for starting duties.

Running back Saquon Barkley earned first-team Freshman All-American honors last season after rushing for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. Whoever is under center will have the luxury of handing the ball off to this talented sophomore to take some of the pressure off.

It also benefits the new QB having each of the top three receivers back from last season. They are second-team All-Big Ten WR Chris Godwin (69 receptions, 1,101 yards, 5 TD), junior WR DaeSean Hamilton (45, 580, 6 TD) and junior WR Saeed Blacknall (8, 248, 1 TD). Also back is starting TE Mike Gesicki (13, 125, 1 TD).

Hackenberg was sacked a whopping 103 times over the past three seasons, but the offensive line play should be vastly improved with four starters and 91 career starts returning. The returnees are senior C Brian Gaia, junior RG Brendan Mahon, sophomore RT Noah Beh and junior LT Andrew Nelson. Look for talented freshman Ryan Bates to earn the RG job.

Defense

The Nittany Lions have been solid defensively in Franklin’s two seasons. They gave up 21.8 points and 324 yards per game last season. While they do return their top two tacklers, they only have five returning starters on this side of the ball.

The defensive line is the biggest question mark as three starters have left for the NFL in Carl Nassib (46 tackles, 15.5 sacks, Anthony Zettel (47 tackles, 11 for loss) and Austin Johnson (78 tackles, 15 for loss). That is a ton of production gone. The replacements are expected to be DE Evan Schwan (21 tackles), NG Parker Cothren (16 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and freshman DT Kevin Gates. The lone returning starter is DE Garrett Sickels (36 tackles, 3 sacks).

The linebacker corps returns intact with the exception of Troy Reeder (67 tackles, 5.5 for loss), who transferred to Delaware. They return their No. 1 and No. 5 tacklers from last year in Jason Cabindo (100 tackles, 5.5 for loss) and Brandon Bell (65 tackles, 12.5 for loss). Senior Nyeem Wartman-White returns from injury after missing all but one game last season, so essentially they have three starters back.

The secondary returns six of the top eight on the depth chart from last season. The two returning starters are junior CB Grant Haley (42 tackles, 2 INT) and junior FS Marcus Allen (81 tackles, 5 for loss). Stepping into starting roles will be sophomore CB John Reid (29 tackles, 2 INT) and senior SS Malik Golden (40 tackles, 1 INT).

Odds (Courtesy of 5Dimes)
Regular Season Win Total
Big Ten East Odds
Big Ten Championship Odds
4-Team Playoff Odds
National Championship Odds
7
+1225
+4000
N/A
+40000
Season Predictions

I’m very high on Penn State this season and believe it could be the surprise team to contend for the Big Ten East crown. However, I stopped short of calling the Nittany Lions East champs just because it’s such a stacked division, and both Michigan and Ohio State still have more talent.

This will be Franklin’s best team yet. The offense should be one of the most improved in the country with nine starters back despite the fact that they have to find a new QB. The defense will be solid again, though I do have my concerns about all they lost along the defensive line to the NFL.

The schedule really makes the Nittany Lions contenders because they have five Big Ten home games, including Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa. If they can win all three of those games, they would certainly be right there. That is unlikely, however, which is why I have them pegged for third place in the East with a 9-3 record overall and a 6-3 conference mark.

2016 Projections
Big Ten East
Big Ten Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
T-3rd
6-3
9-3
Over 7
More College Football Predictions
Big Ten
East
Penn State
West
Conferences
Independents
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