Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.
Our Top 25 — so far:
Today’s team: No. 10 Penn State
The Nittany Lions’ best-case scenario: Veteran quarterback Trace McSorley emerges as a Heisman contender and helps the offense overcome the loss of running back Saquon Barkley, an inexperienced defense jells quickly, and the Nittany Lions secure a third consecutive 11-win season.
Their worst-case scenario: Without his top playmakers from a year ago, McSorley’s production drops down to pedestrian level and the youthful defense can’t consistently stop the Big Ten powers.
Inside the Nittany Lions
Coach: James Franklin (fifth year, 36-17; 60-32 overall at Vanderbilt and Penn State)
2017: 11-2, 7-2 in the Big Ten (beat Washington 35-28 in the Fiesta Bowl)
Returning starters: 7 offense, 3 defense
Goodbye: RB Saquon Barkley (1st, Giants); TE Mike Gesicki (2nd, Dolphins); S Troy Apke (4th, Redskins); WR DaeSean Hamilton (4th, Broncos); S Marcus Allen (5th, Steelers); LB Jason Cabinda; CB Chris Campbell (6th, Cardinals)
Spring cleaning: Barkley, arguably the most explosive player in the nation last season, accounted for 2,329 all-purpose yardso. Finding his replacement was a top offseason priority, but the Nittany Lions also must answer plenty of other questions. How will promoted offensive assistant Ricky Rahne handle the coordinating and play-calling duties now that former OC Joe Moorhead is the new head coach at Mississippi State? Can anyone fill the cleats of all-American tight end Mike Gesicki? And can Penn State’s defense replace its top four tacklers from 2017?
PASSING: Trace McSorley, 284-427-3,570, 28/10 (1st); Tommy Stevens, 14-27-158, 3/0 (2nd)
RUSHING: QB Trace McSorley, 144-491-11 (2nd); Miles Sanders, 31-191-2 (3rd)
RECEIVING: Juwan Johnson, 54-701-1 (2nd); DeAndre Thompkins, 28-443-3 (5th)
TACKLES: LB Koa Farmer, 48 (6th)
SACKS: DE Shareef Miller, 5 (1st); DE Shaka Toney, 4 (2nd)
INTERCEPTIONS: CB Amani Oruwariye, 4 (1st)
Returning All-Big Ten players (6)
Offense: QB Trace McSorley (2nd team); OT Ryan Bates (3rd); WR Juwan Johnson (hon. mention)
Defense: CB Amani Oruwariye (2nd); DE Shareef Miller (3rd)
Special teams: RET DeAndre Thompkins (3rd)
All eyes on McSorley: McSorley enters the season with Heisman hopes and his spot in Penn State lore already secured. In two seasons as a starter, McSorley has a 22-5 record and holds a plethora of Nittany Lions passing records. Barring injury, he’ll end his collegiate career with virtually every passing record from a school that has produced its share of NFL signal callers.
Clearing the paths: While the Nittany Lion faithful are wringing their collective hands over the departure of Barkley, Franklin has expressed faith that four returning offensive linemen will help keep the ground game humming. Sophomore tailback Miles Sanders was a prep legend in Pittsburgh and averaged more than six yards a carry in limited time last season, and highly touted recruit Ricky Slade tallied more than 2,700 all-purpose yards and 40 touchdowns as an All-American prep player last season.
Getting defensive: Yes, the top four and six of the top eight tacklers are gone from a defensive unit gutted by graduation and several early departures. But no, Franklin isn’t too concerned about a dropoff because of a veteran front four that helped Penn State lead the Big Ten in sacks a year ago. Pass rushers Miller, Toney and Ryan Buchholz all return, which should make things easier on a rebuilt secondary.
2017 national rankings
Scoring: 7th (41.1 ppg) — right above No. 8 Florida Atlantic, right behind No. 6 Ohio State
Points allowed: 7th (16.5 ppg) — right above No. 8 UTSA, right behind No. 6 Georgia
Passing: 23rd (290.2 ypg) — right above Nos. 24 Baylor and Louisiana-Monroe, right behind No. 22 Buffalo
Rushing: 59th (170.2 ypg) — right above No. 60 Hawaii, right behind No. Louisiana-Monroe
Total offense: 19th (460.3 ypg) — right above No. 20 West Virginia, right behind No. 18 Ole Miss
Total defense: 17th (329.5 ypg) — right above No. 18 Florida State, right behind No. 16 Washington State
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 1 (2:30, BTN)||Appalachian State|
|Sept. 8 (7, ABC)||at Pittsburgh||W, 33-14|
|Sept. 15 (11 a.m., FS1)||Kent State|
|Sept. 21 (8, FS1)||at Illinois*|
|Sept. 29||Ohio State*||L, 39-38|
|Oct. 13||Michigan State*||L, 27-24|
|Oct. 20||at Indiana*||W, 45-14|
|Oct. 27||Iowa*||W, 21-19|
|Nov. 3||at Michigan*||W, 42-13|
|Nov. 24||Maryland*||W, 66-3|
|* Big Ten game|
The key game: Sept. 29, Ohio State. A win in the conference home opener could give the Nittany Lions an inside track on on the East division, especially with a schedule that includes other home games against conference heavyweights Michigan State and Wisconsin.
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKINGS||BOWL, RESULT|
|2013||7-5 (4-4)||— / —||No bowl|
|2014||7-6 (2-6)||— / —||Pinstripe, W|
|2015||7-6 (4-4)||— / —||TaxSlayer, L|
|2016||11-3 (8-1)||— / 7th||Rose, L|
|2017||11-2 (7-2)||6th / 8th||Fiesta, W|
|Total||43-22 (25-17 Big Ten)||2-2 in bowls|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
Our Top 25, by conferences
Big Ten — No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan
Pac-12 — No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon
Big 12 — No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas
ACC — No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State
SEC — No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU
Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame
Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State
AAC — No. 22 Central Florida
Coming tomorrow: Our No. 9 team
Want a hint?
Well, it’s NOT a fourth straight Big Ten school. Oh, and John Heisman — the guy the trophy’s named for — once coached there.