The beginning of every season is a chance to get something wrong. You can do all the preseason research and prep work, but things may be different once the players are on the field. In the case of the Penn State, the loss of Saquon Barkley and others hardly leaves the cupboard bare, but it is fair to wonder how far the Nittany Lions will fall. Furthermore, the loss of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead to the head coaching job at Mississippi State could have a significant impact, as Penn State took off when he was hired in 2016.
Things won’t change a ton, as Ricky Rahne will be promoted from QB coach to offensive coordinator, but he was the QB coach in 2014-15, when Penn State only managed 4.6 and 5.5 yards per play, respectively. He was the tight ends coach after Moorhead’s hiring. So, there are a lot of questions in Happy Valley and we may not have a whole lot of answers until we get some data points in the form of college football games. It certainly seems like Penn State will regress following back-to-back 11-win seasons.
On the other hand, the sportsbooks still have high hopes. Penn State is tied with Michigan as the fifth favorite to win the National Championship per DSI Sportsbook at +1200. The Nittany Lions are considerably down the board at 5Dimes at +2500, with BetOnline in the middle at +1400. BetOnline lists Penn State +450 to win the Big Ten, as they host Ohio State, with 5Dimes at +575.
BetDSI shows a season win total line of 9.5 with both sides at -115. 5Dimes is also 9.5, but -105/-115 and BetOnline is 9.5 with the under at -130. Keep in mind that these win total odds do not include conference championship games or bowl games.
|Date||Opponent||BangTheBook Line||Expected Wins|
|9/21 (F)||@ Illinois||-22.5||1|
Expected Wins: 9.07
Starting quarterback Trace McSorley is back, along with four starters on the offensive line, but the loss of Saquon Barkley cannot be overstated. Barkley had 1,271 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. He was also tied for second on the team in receptions with 54 for 632 yards. Along with Barkley, McSorley loses two other targets in Mike Gesicki, who led the team with 57 catches, and DaeSean Hamilton, who led the team with 857 receiving yards. Penn State loses 39 total touchdowns in those three players. McSorley is still a solid dual-threat quarterback, but finding somebody to throw to in a new offensive scheme could prove to be a bit challenging. Maybe true freshman Justin Shorter will complement junior Juwan Johnson, but Penn State has a lot of building to do at the skill positions.
As mentioned above, the offense took on an altogether different look when Joe Moorhead came over from Fordham. Moorhead is now down in Starkville with the Mississippi State Bulldogs. James Franklin is an offensive-minded guy and should help 37-year-old first-time offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, but there really could be a significant drop-off from this offense. The arrow was already pointing down a bit for Penn State with a +12 turnover margin.
Brent Pry also has a ton to replace on defense. The fifth-year DC shares duties with Tim Banks, who is in his third season. The Nittany Lions only return three starters on the defensive side of the ball. This is a group that has 128 sacks over the last three seasons. A lot of last season’s sacks, surprisingly, do return, as the Nittany Lions like to rush the passer with fresh bodies in the rotation. The top tacklers from last season and virtually the entire back seven is gone, save for Koa Farmer, who was sixth in tackles.
The news may not be as bad as it looks, though. Amari Oruwariye led the team with four interceptions last season, so he’ll anchor the secondary in his senior year. There are a ton of upperclassmen atop the two-deep, so while they aren’t returning starters, they were valuable backups that have been in the program. That gives Penn State a little bit of a high-variance profile. Some of these guys were blocked and some of them weren’t good enough to be starters, but they have a lot of experience and Penn State’s recruiting classes have really gone up during the Franklin years. True freshman Micah Parsons was the top linebacker recruit in the country and may help bring Penn State back to its Linebacker U does with Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, LaVar Arrington, and Sean Lee.
Penn State has four weeks to work out the kinks before Ohio State comes to town. That is the revenge game to end all revenge games for Penn State, as they lost by a point in Columbus last season and beat the Buckeyes in 2016, even though Ohio State went to the College Football Playoff. Penn State draws Michigan off of a bye on November 3 and then has to play Wisconsin the following week in what profiles as a very physical game. The weak non-conference schedule does give Penn State a nice base from which to work on this win total.
Pick: Under 9.5 (-115, DSI or 5Dimes)
This is one of the stronger numbers out there from the oddsmakers, so it’s hard to go one way or another. Penn State could very well go 10-2, with losses to two of Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Penn State could very well lose all three or find a way to slip up against Sparty. Maybe the road game at Pitt gives them some problems as well. Ten wins is the absolutely ceiling for Penn State, whereas there is a very realistic route to 9-3 or 8-4. Therefore, the pick would be the under, but there should be better bets on the board with 130 different options.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Penn State Nittany Lions
Big Ten – East
2016 record: 11-3 SU & 10-3-1 ATS
Head Coach: James Franklin – Head Coaching Experience: 7 years (4th with Penn State)
Season Over/Under Win Total: Over 9.5 +105 Under 9.5 -135
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 20/1 (8th Best odds)
Returning Starters: 15 (Offense: 9 Defense: 6)
Rivals 2017 Recruiting ranking: #12 (total recruits: 21, 5-star: 1)
Sep. 2 Akron
Sep. 9 Pittsburgh
Sep. 16 Georgia State
Sep. 23 @ Iowa
Sep. 30 Indiana
Oct. 7 @ Northwester
Oct. 14 Bye
Oct. 21 Michigan
Oct. 28 @ Ohio State
Nov. 4 @ Michigan St.
Nov. 11 Rutgers
Nov. 18 Nebraska
Nov. 25 @ Maryland
Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead will have 9 starters back on an offense that put up 37.6 PPG (45.6 PPG in the last 7 games) in 2016, with 2 possible Heisman contenders among those 9 veteran starters. One of those contenders is Junior QB Trace McSorley, who last year, as a Sophomore, broke Penn State’s all-time records for passing yards and passing TD’s in a single season (3614 YDS, 29 TD). Now with one year of experience in Moorhead’s “Oregon Style” spread offense, McSorley should only be better in what has the potential to be a Heisman Trophy campaign.
The other potential Heisman Trophy candidate resides in the Nittany Lion backfield, and after breaking Penn State’s freshman rushing record in 2015 with 1076 YDS despite missing 2 games, returned in 2016 to run for 1496 YDS and 18 TD on 272 Attempts, earning himself Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors. Saquon Barkley will return for his Junior year as one of the truly elite RB’s in the nation, and in considering the potential firepower this offense may possess in 2016, he has the capability to hoist the Heisman Trophy when it is all said and done.
The loss of 2 time All-Big-Ten WR and the leader in receptions in 2016 (59), Chris Godwin, to the NFL (3rd Round) isn’t likely to slow this veteran WR corps down much, as they return every other receiver on the team. Two seniors, DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall will be McSorley’s primary Wideout targets, while Senior Tight End Mike Gesicki will return as the second leading pass catcher from a year ago. Look for 6-4 225lb Sophomore Juwan Johnson to see his share of targets as well, in what should be an improved group of WR’s for Penn State.
The addition of Offensive line coach Mike Limegrover in 2016 saw this line improve from 39 sacks and 134 Rush YPG in 2015 to 24 sacks and 172 Rush YPG in ‘16. Those improvements were in spite of the injuries to their 2 best Guards Andrew Nelson, and Brendan Mahon for significant parts of the season. In 2017, these 2 are back as seniors and part of 87 career starts returning, which will give Penn State their most talented and experienced line during Franklin’s tenure these last 3 years.
After an injury-plagued 2016, which saw the Nittany Lions give up 31.4 ppg in the first half of the season as their entire LB corps recovered on the sidelines, Penn State will return 6 starters on a defense that has been solid under Franklin for the most part. Where they usually excel is in the front 7 and in stopping the run, and this year should be no different with a lot of experience returning. Though the defensive line will lose their top 2 pass rushers in DE’s Evan Schwan and 2nd Team All-Big-Ten Garrett Sickels, they will return 8 of their top 11 defensive lineman from a year ago and will be more experienced with 2 seniors, NG Parker Cothren and DT Curtis Cothran, starting up-front.
Where most of the injury issues arose last year were in the LB corps where all three starters battled injuries throughout the year. At times, even finding enough linebackers to fully field a practice was an problem as seven linebackers were injured at one point during the season. It was only when Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda returned vs. Ohio State in week 7, that the Penn State season began to build the momentum which took them to the Rose Bowl. This year Bell is gone, but Senior Jason Cabinda as back at MLB, and will be joined by 2 juniors in Manny Bowen and Koa Framer in what should be an improved unit over last year’s debacle at “Linebacker U.”
PSU will have to replace most of their secondary this year with the losses of SS Malik Golden, CB Jordan Smith, and Junior CB John Reid who tore his ACL this spring and will miss the remainder of the season. Still, this will be one of the more seasoned secondaries in College Football with a Senior starting at every position. FS Marcus Allen was the team’s leading tackler in 2016, and will return to head this secondary, along with CB Grant Haley, CB Christian Campbell, and SS Troy Apke, that should show major improvement from a year ago.
Senior 1st Team All-Big Ten Kicker Tyler Davis will look to follow up a nearly perfect season which saw him only miss 2 kicks (22-24), and these were missed via block. He will have to take over kickoff duties, however, for one of the better KO specialists in the country last year, Joey Julius. Punter Black Gillikin will be back as well as a top 10 punter recruit and a 42.8 average yards per punt from a year ago as a true freshman. Penn State’s Special Teams is regarded as a top 25 unit.
2017 Season Outlook
Now, the most experienced team in the Big Ten with 15 starters returning, Penn State will look to follow up its magical run in 2016 in which they outscored their opponents 326-130 in the second half and pulled off a few pretty big upsets over Ohio State and Wisconsin. With the 8th best odds to win the National Championship, the Nittany Lions are expected to open the season as top 10 in the polls, and could be favored in all of their games except for their road tilt in Columbus vs. the Buckeyes on Oct. 28. Having to go on the road to Michigan State the following week, however, there certainly is letdown potential in that one, as they also play Michigan the week before they play Ohio State. Add on to that 3-game gauntlet, a road game at Northwestern, a dangerous team in 2016 that will return 16 starters, and it becomes difficult to bet on Penn State getting through this season with less than 2 losses. Though Penn State should be improved and surely has the talent to make a run this year, but scheduling nuance and James Franklin’s history in big games give reason to shy away from firing on a Nittany Lion season win total over.
Season Win Total Prediction: Under 9.5