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.
INSIDE THE NITTANY LIONS
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.
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)
RETURNING ALL-CONFERENCE PLAYERS (6)
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)
PENN STATE: FYI
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
|DATE||OPPONENT||LAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)|
|Sept. 9||Pitt||L, 42-39|
|Sept. 16||Georgia State|
|Sept. 23||at Iowa*||W, 41-14|
|Sept. 30||Indiana*||W, 45-31|
|Oct. 7||at Northwestern*|
|Oct. 21||Michigan*||L, 49-10|
|Oct. 28||at Ohio State*||W, 24-21|
|Nov. 4||at Michigan State*||W, 45-12|
|Nov. 11||Rutgers*||W, 39-0|
|Nov. 25||at Maryland*||W, 38-14|
|* Big Ten game|
The last 5 years
|YEAR||W-L (CONF.)||RANKING||BOWL GAME|
|TOTAL||40-24 (24-17)||1-2 in bowls|
|2012||8-4 (6-2)||NR/NR||No bowl|
|2013||7-5 (4-4)||NR/NR||No bowl|
|2014||7-6 (2-6)||NR/NR||W Pinstripe|
|2015||7-6 (4-4)||NR/NR||L TaxSlayer|
|2016||11-3 (8-1)||NR/7th||L Rose|
Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking
2016 NATIONAL STAT RANKS
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)
OUR TOP 25 SO FAR
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.
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)
Big Ten (No. 6 Penn State, No. 10 Michigan, No. 13 Wisconsin)
Pac-12 (No. 8 Washington, No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)
ACC (No. 15 Louisville, No. 20 Miami)
Pac-12 (No. 16 Stanford, No. 24 Oregon)
AAC (No. 18 South Florida)
Mountain West (No. 25 Boise State)
News on Bevo Beat is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of Hookem.com is included with an Austin American-Statesman subscription in addition to Statesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe today at statesman.com/subscribe.