James Franklin and the Nittany Lions aim to stay competitive in the Big Ten race
The Penn State Nittany Lions enter Year Six under head coach James Franklin, and for the first time, they enter a new season with some legitimate questions about the offense. Gone are playmakers like Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders, and one of the top wide receivers is now catching passes at Oregon (Juwan Johnson). With some transition in the air in Happy Valley and in the same division with popular Big Ten picks Michigan and Ohio State, the Nittany Lions begin the season as a bit of a long shot for the Big Ten title and are quite the dark-horse candidate for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
So how does the schedule line up for the Nittany Lions? Road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State resulted in disappointing and playoff-elimination losses two years ago, and a road trip to Iowa is back two years after a wild last-second victory in prime time. The big matchup at home will come in mid-October against Michigan, and the Nittany Lions also face in-state rival Pitt for the final time in the series as it currently stands. Does Penn State have what it takes to come up with a strong season that catches many by surprise, or are the Nittany Lions looking at a disappointing fourth-place finish at best in the Big Ten East Division?
Athlon asked a few editors and one of its college football contributors to share their realistic win/loss projection for Penn State in 2019.
Penn State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2019
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Michigan and Ohio State have been generating most of the preseason buzz in the Big Ten East Division, but coach James Franklin’s team shouldn’t be overlooked. Despite losing quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Miles Sanders, Penn State returns enough talent to push for double-digit victories. Franklin and his staff have upgraded the talent level on this roster in recent years, so the transition period on both sides for new starters should be minimal. New signal-caller Sean Clifford is primed for a breakout year, and the Nittany Lions should have one of the nation’s top defensive fronts. Penn State gets Michigan at home, but road trips to Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State won’t be easy. Even if the Nittany Lions fall short of a division title, this team should be positioned for a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl.
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch)
Penn State has lost some key personnel in recent years, but James Franklin and staff have done an outstanding job restocking the roster. The names might not be as recognizable to some, but this is still a very good team. The Nittany Lions shouldn't have too much trouble sweeping their non-conference games, with Pittsburgh at home posing by far the biggest threat. They only get four Big Ten games at home, and I have them winning all of those as well — including the Oct. 19 visit from Michigan. Trips to Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State will all be tough; I have Penn State losing three of those four, though the Lions might be favored in all but the OSU game.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
The Nittany Lions do have some big shoes to fill at a couple of key spots on the offense, but the recruiting that has been done has ensured there is solid potential to keep things humming on offense. If the wide receivers can hold on to a few more passes from new starting quarterback Sean Clifford, the big plays could make a key return in 2019 while Ricky Slade emerges as the next top running back. The defense should be good enough to keep games within reach even against the top opponents. A big home win at Michigan will throw Penn State onto the playoff radar, but an upset loss at Minnesota will knock things off course. A shot at the division will be on the line in Columbus, but the Nittany Lions will have to settle for a shot at a New Year's Six at-large berth at the end of the season.