Penn State Football: 3 Reasons for Optimism About the Nittany Lions in 2021

Jahan Dotson is back after leading the Big Ten in receiving last season

The Penn State Nittany Lions had a 2020 season that was easy to forget.

 

James Franklin's team limped out of the gate to the worst start in school history (0-5) but finished the second half of the season feeling better about itself. Penn State didn't play in a bowl game for a shot to even their season record, which meant a busy offseason arrived earlier than usual.

 

Following a flurry of activity with the transfer portal and a surprise switch at offensive coordinator, Penn State is hoping to be able to start the 2021 season on the right foot.

 

Here are three reasons why the Nittany Lions should be feeling much more optimistic about their 2021 fortunes compared to their 2020 stumbles.

 

1. Mike Yurcich arrives as offensive coordinator

The thought of having another year starting off with another new offensive coordinator can be a daunting one. But a chance to improve the offensive coaching with the addition of Yurcich — the program's fifth OC since Franklin arrived in 2014 — made too much sense. Yurcich should bring some new innovations to the Penn State offense after spending last season as Texas's OC and the previous year as Ohio State's quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Having some pieces in place on offense should lead to a fun start on offense.

 

2. Wide receivers showed progress in 2020

One of the reasons to be excited about the Penn State offense in 2021 will be the continued growth of the wide receivers. Jahan Dotson returns after leading the Big Ten with 884 receiving yards last season, and other younger options continue to improve. Parker Washington was the team's second-leading receiver, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith could be ready for a breakout season. They should all benefit from some new looks in Yurcich's offense.

 

3. Penn State's defense was better than you may remember

There is no way to sugarcoat how Penn State's season went last year, and the defense was responsible for the lion's share of the blame. But there is something to be said about the year the defense had. Penn State finished third in the Big Ten in total defense, behind only Wisconsin and Iowa. The defensive line may have a bunch of new faces after Jayson Oweh and Shaka Toney went pro, but the linebackers are pretty much set and already have experience with Jesse Luketa and Brandon Smith anchoring the middle of the field.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB, on Instagram, and Like him on Facebook.

 

(Top photo by Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics, courtesy of gopsusports.com)

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