PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 19: Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions holds his team back as they prepare to take the field against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

BEVO BEAT Football

The American-Statesman’s Top 25 countdown: No. 6 Penn State

Are the Nittany Lions ready to challenge Ohio State and Michigan for Big Ten East supremacy again?

Posted July 24th, 2017


Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 7 and 17 on our 2016 list.

Today’s team: No. 6 Penn State (Related coverage: Penn State football is flexing its ‘recruiting muscles’)

Best-case scenario: The Nittany Lions come out on top again in the Big Ten East and end up claiming one of the four College Football Playoff berths; it should be a three-team race in the East between Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.


Worst-case scenario: Losses to the Buckeyes and Wolverines, and Penn State ends up in a mid-level bowl like the Outback or Holiday.

The key game: Oct. 21, Michigan. The low point last season was a 49-10 loss to the Wolverines.



Coach: James Franklin (fourth year, 25-15; 49-30 overall at Vanderbilt and Penn State)

2016: 11-3, 8-1 in the Big Ten (lost to USC 52-49 in the Rose Bowl)

Returning starters: 9 offense, 7 defense

Goodbye: WR Chris Godwin, FS Malik Golden, OL Brian Gaia, OL Derek Dowrey, DE Evan Schwan, LB Brandon Bell.

Spring cleaning: The Nittany Lions made some position changes; Johnathan Thomas moved from linebacker to running back, Jarvis Miller moved from safety to linebacker, and Josh McPhearson switched from wide receiver to running back. … Penn State’s signing class ranked 15th in the country with no five-stars signed but 11 four-stars and 10 three-stars.

STATE COLLEGE, PA – OCTOBER 08: Trace McSorley #9 of the Penn State Nittany Lions is lifted up by Brendan Mahon #70 after rushing for a nine-yard touchdown in the second quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Beaver Stadium on October 8, 2016 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)


Passing: Trace McSorley, 224-387-3,614, 29/8

Rushing: Saquon Barkley, 272-1,949-18 (1st)

Receiving: TE Mike Gesicki, 48-679-5 (2nd)

Tackles: S Marcus Allen, 110 (1st)

Sacks: DT Kevin Givens, 4.5 (3rd)



Offense: RB Saquon Barkley (1st team), QB Trace McSorley (2nd), TE Mike Gesicki (2nd), K Tyler Davis (3rd)

Defense: LB Jason Cabinda (3rd), S Marcus Allen (3rd)

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 02: Running back Saquon Barkley #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions runs with the ball against the USC Trojans during the 2017 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual at the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)


Back for more: Quarterback Trace McSorley, coming off a 3,614-yard season that saw him throw for 29 touchdowns and eight interceptions, emerged as a star in 2016. He’s getting included in some preseason Heisman Trophy candidates lists. He also added seven rushing touchdowns last season.

Moving the chains: Penn State scored nearly 38 points a game under first-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who came to Happy Valley after a four-year run as Fordham’s head coach. He not only gets McSorley back but also Saquon Barkley, who finished just short of 2,000 yards and might be the first running back taken in the 2018 NFL draft. Last year Barkley became one of 17 players since 2000 to rush for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns, and catch at least 25 passes for 400 or more yards in the same season.

Getting defensive: The team’s deepest position is defensive tackle. Five players who had double-digit tackles last season are back. Parker Cothren, Curtis Cothren and Kevin Givens each started at least six games. The defense, which gave up 47.7 points per game in losses to Pitt, Michigan and USC, catches at least one break: Michigan and Pitt at least are home games this season.

Penn State's schedule

Sept. 2Akron
Sept. 9PittL, 42-39
Sept. 16Georgia State
Sept. 23at Iowa*W, 41-14
Sept. 30Indiana*W, 45-31
Oct. 7at Northwestern*
Oct. 21Michigan*L, 49-10
Oct. 28at Ohio State*W, 24-21
Nov. 4at Michigan State*W, 45-12
Nov. 11Rutgers*W, 39-0
Nov. 18Nebraska*
Nov. 25at Maryland*W, 38-14
* Big Ten game

The last 5 years

TOTAL40-24 (24-17)1-2 in bowls
20128-4 (6-2)NR/NRNo bowl
20137-5 (4-4)NR/NRNo bowl
20147-6 (2-6)NR/NRW Pinstripe
20157-6 (4-4)NR/NRL TaxSlayer
201611-3 (8-1)NR/7thL Rose

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking



Scoring: 21st (37.6 ppg)

Points allowed: 47th (25.4 ppg)

Passing: 36th (260.7 ypg)

Rushing: 66th (171.9 ypg)

Total off.: 49th (432.6 ypg)

Total def.: 37th (367.9 ypg)



No. 25: Boise State

No. 24: Oregon

No. 23: Tennessee

No. 22: Texas

No. 21: Kansas State

No. 20: Miami

No. 19: West Virginia

No. 18: South Florida

No. 17: Florida

No. 16: Stanford

No. 15: Louisville

No. 14: Georgia

No. 13: Wisconsin

No. 12: LSU

No. 11: Auburn

No. 10: Michigan

No. 9: Oklahoma State

No. 8: Washington

No. 7: Oklahoma

No. 6: Penn State

No. 5: Coming Tuesday. Want a hint? This school has a mock cemetery near the practice field that features tombstones commemorating ranked teams it’s beaten on the road. Last year, that included the Florida State Seminoles.



5 schools:

Big 12 (No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 21 Kansas State, No. 22 Texas)

SEC (No. 11 Auburn, No. 12 LSU, No. 14 Georgia, No. 17 Florida, No. 23 Tennessee)

3 schools:

Big Ten (No. 6 Penn State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Wisconsin)

Pac-12 (No. 8 Washington, No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)

2 schools:

ACC (No. 15 Louisville, No. 20 Miami)

Pac-12 (No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)

1 school:

AAC (No. 18 South Florida)

Mountain West (No. 25 Boise State)

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