Penn State was a top-10 football team in 2017. The Nittany Lions weren’t quite able to defend their Big Ten title from the previous season after losing back-to-back games to Ohio State and Michigan State. However, those were the only two games Penn State lost in 2017, as the Nittany Lions finished the year 11-2, including a win over Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.
James Franklin and company will now look to take Penn State somewhere that they’ve never been before, namely the College Football Playoff. Of course, getting there likely means having to get back on top of a loaded Big Ten, which is easier said than done.
Oddsmakers appear to be fans of the Nittany Lions. Penn State is +2500 to win the national championship, which is eighth-highest in the country. The Nittany Lions are also projected to win 9.5 games in 2018. Topping that number will require Penn State to match or exceed last year’s success.
Of course, the one big piece missing from last season is running back Saquon Barkley. It will be almost impossible to replace Barkley in the starting lineup, but Franklin has high hopes for the contingent of backs that will look to collectively fill Barkley’s shoes. The Nittany Lions will also be leaning heavily on senior quarterback Trace McSorley, who may be asked to carry Penn State at times this season.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions are a little thin in spots, most notably linebacker. Penn State will also have all new starters in the secondary. Franklin has recruited well, so the talent is there, but it remains to be seen if those new faces can dominate weaker teams the way the 2017 Nittany Lion defense did. If Penn State ends up taking a small step back on both sides of the ball, they may fall a little short of the 9.5 wins threshold.
|Sep 1||Appalachian State Mountaineers||3:30 PM|
|Sep 8||@ Pittsburgh Panthers||8:00 PM|
|Sep 15||Kent State Golden Flashes||12:00 PM|
|Sep 21||@ Illinois Fighting Illini||9:00 PM|
|Sep 29||Ohio State Buckeyes||12:00 PM|
|Oct 13||Michigan State Spartans||12:00 PM|
|Oct 20||@ Indiana Hoosiers||12:00 PM|
|Oct 27||Iowa Hawkeyes||12:00 PM|
|Nov 3||@ Michigan Wolverines||12:00 PM|
|Nov 10||Wisconsin Badgers||12:00 PM|
|Nov 17||@ Rutgers Scarlet Knights||12:00 PM|
|Nov 24||Maryland Terrapins||12:00 PM|
Penn State’s schedule could work out in their favor. They have four marquee opponents in Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. However, they are home for three of those four games, with only the Michigan game being on the road. None of Penn State’s other road games or non-conference contests should worry them. That being said, a home date against Iowa could be a trap game, as it comes right before they play Michigan and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks. The Hawkeyes have also been known to play spoiler.
While the schedule sets up nicely for Penn State, the Nittany Lions may not have the depth to survive injuries on defense. They are also lacking proven playmakers around McSorley. That makes a trip to the College Football Playoff hard to foresee. Ultimately, the Nittany Lions will likely finish third in the Big Ten East, and they may have to win their bowl game in order to reach 10 wins.