Penn State is looking for a significant rebound season in 2021 after a dreadful start to the previous campaign. But the Nittany Lions face one of the more challenging schedules of the James Franklin era highlighted by road trips to Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Iowa and a primetime home date with Auburn from the SEC.
Franklin has said this offseason he is excited to see what his team is capable of doing this year, and he has the talent on the roster to be able to flip things back in their favor this season. Third-year starting quarterback Sean Clifford will be guided by new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, and Jahan Dotson is back as one of the best wide receivers in the Big Ten. With a healthy stable of runnings backs with three Doak Walker Award watch list players, and a defense led by one of the best secondaries in the Big Ten, Penn State could turn some heads this fall.
If Penn State is going to return to a New Year's Six bowl game, they will certainly have to go out and earn it with the schedule staring them down, which begins in Week 1 on the road against Wisconsin.
Penn State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2021
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Everything that could go wrong seemed to for Penn State in an 0-5 start last season. However, the Nittany Lions turned things around with a four-game winning streak to close 2020, and the track record of coach James Franklin’s program suggests last fall was largely an aberration. Finishing in the top 25 in ’21 will require improved quarterback play out of Sean Clifford, better luck in the turnover department, and the emergence of a few contributors along a thin defensive front. New play-caller Mike Yurcich inherits a deep group of running backs, one of the Big Ten’s top receiving duos in Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson, and three starters from a solid offensive line. Assuming the front reloads, the defense should be among the best in the conference. With Auburn, Indiana and Michigan coming to Happy Valley, nine or 10 wins isn’t out of the question. But with the quarterback concerns and depth worries on the line still hanging over this team, 8-4 seems more realistic.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Penn State's 2020 campaign started historically rough and then finished on a high note. So which team can we expect to see this fall? The schedule has several tricky road trips, including the opener against Wisconsin. And even though it's at home, the intriguing matchup with Auburn is pretty much a toss-up. There are more than enough winnable games on this slate for the Nittany Lions to secure a decent bowl bid, even with a couple of likely setbacks away from Happy Valley.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Penn State has the potential to be the best team on the field in every game on its schedule this season with the notable exception of the road trip to Ohio State. The Nittany Lions are an underdog at Wisconsin to open the season, but that is certainly a winnable game, which makes a 4-0 start to the season a realistic expectation. Penn State will probably lose one of their two big road games against the top Big Ten West contenders (Wisconsin and Iowa), but not both. Sean Clifford cutting down on turnovers should lead to a better overall season for the entire Penn State offense.