January 10, 2017
Clemson’s last-second win over Alabama was a perfect way to end the college football season. But as soon as DeShaun Watson found Hunter Renfrow in the end zone, every media outlet that covers college football even a little bit on the national level started looking ahead to next year.
It’s what we do (and more importantly, what we click on). Anyway, for the first time in a long time, the Penn State Nittany Lions were found near the top of many “Way too early Top 25 rankings. Here’s a sampling of what the national media has to say about James Franklin’s team:
Leading receiver Chris Godwin opted to leave early for the NFL draft, but most of Penn State's starters on offense will return, including star tailback Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley. Both will be top Heisman Trophy candidates. Plus, PSU will get back a few offensive linemen who were hurt for the stretch run. Four of the defense's most productive players are departing -- defensive ends Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels, linebacker Brandon Bell and strong safety Malik Golden -- but everyone else is expected back.
What does James Franklin do for a Big Ten encore? Perhaps win the league again. Once again, the Nits will battle Ohio State in the Big Ten East. Trace McSorley is a gunslinger. Saquon Barkley is simply one of the best tailbacks in the country.
Penn State came out of nowhere in 2016, which is why our formula is doing some brake pumping. Most of the offense besides receiver Chris Godwin returns, including Trace McSorely and standout running back Saquon Barkley. The offensive line, which started three freshmen in the Rose Bowl, should progress. Penn State’s defense brings a veteran core back but loses both starting DEs. We did not knock the Nittany Lions down for McSorely’s trademark home run/salute celebration. But, we should have.
(C’mon Big Lead, if you're going to make fun of his celebration, at least spell his name correctly.)
Three years into a full allotment of scholarships, the Nittany Lions will be deeper and better.
The Nittany Lions’ biggest post-regular season development was offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead’s decision to return in 2017. That, along with the return of quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, will ensure this offseason will be even better next season. Recapturing this year’s magic won’t be easy, but there’s zero reason to think Penn State is poised to take any step back.
The Nittany Lions are rolling with two Heisman Trophy contenders in Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley in their backfield, and the carry-over effect for Sporting News Coach of the Year James Franklin is obvious. Penn State will be in contention for the Big Ten East championship again.
With the quarterback, star running back, and a ton of other starters returning, there are going to be high expectations (well, reasonably high expectations) for the first time in a long time in Happy Valley.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann