In recent years, the James Franklin era has brought new life to a Penn State Nittany Lions program that could never quite get over the hump in the Big Ten. With a record of 56-23 (including 42-11 over the past four years), Franklin has taken a good program and made it a great one.
When a college team succeeds consistently, it leads to a turnover on the coaching staff, as other schools lure away assistants with high money contracts in attempts at recreating the magic. Penn State has fallen victim to that numerous times.
The Nittany Lions welcome new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who had great success at Minnesota last season. The new play-caller will be pleased to welcome back a decent amount of experienced players from 2019.
Sean Clifford will be a solid dual-threat quarterback; if he can improve his accuracy (59% completion rate last season). Ciarrocca and Clifford will need big seasons from the inexperienced wide receivers if Penn State’s offense hopes to become a threat in the Big Ten.
While Jahan Dotson was solid last year, racking up almost 500 yards via receptions, he has hardly proven that he is an elite receiving threat as of late. Given such low levels of experience, it is hard to tell who will step up at this point, but Clifford will have to be sharp for the passing game to fly this year. The good news is that the Nittany Lions will have their starting tight end back, Pat Freiermuth, who caught seven touchdowns for the team in 2019.
The run game is an entirely different story, as the Nittany Lions will return five offensive linemen with starting experience and their top rusher, Journey Brown. Brown led the team in rushing last season with 898 yards and 12 touchdowns and had his coming out party in Penn State’s Cotton Bowl victory, where he rushed for 202 yards.
On the defensive side of the ball, Penn State will lean on weak-side linebacker Micah Parsons, who had big-time numbers in his sophomore season. Parsons racked up 109 total tackles, including 14 for loss and five sacks on his way to earning All-American honors. As for the two open spots in the linebacker group, relatively experienced junior linebacker Ellis Brooks and five-star recruit Brandon Smith will look to make an impact.
Shaka Toney is returning along the defensive line and will be lined up opposite to either Jayson Oweh or Adisa Isaac. Antonio Shelton is returning on the inside, and experienced junior PJ Mustipher is set to take over the opposite spot. While they are losing two starters, the players selected to step up have a decent amount of experience between them. Mustipher was a healthy contributor last year, making 37 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, and a sack.
In the secondary, the Penn State Nittany Lions will welcome back cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and free safety Lamont Wade, both of whom played well last season. The other spots are likely to be filled by Marquis Wilson and Jonathan Sutherland. Both Wilson and Sutherland have experience and will look to become full-time starters in 2020.
Overall, the Nittany Lions are in better shape than a lot of teams in the Big Ten. While they are losing many starters, it seems as though most of the players who will step up have game experience. For that reason, Penn State will remain relatively steady in 2020.
2020 season record prediction: 6-2
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