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Penn State Football: 3 Reasons for Optimism About the Nittany Lions in 2022

James Franklin

James Franklin has a new defensive coordinator and is adding a loaded recruiting class to his roster

After a pair of seasons with mediocre results on the field, the 2022 season is one James Franklin hopes to see Penn State return to the table as a legitimate threat to win the Big Ten and, perhaps, make an appearance in the College Football Playoff. But after two seasons of .500 football, Penn State is now a program that needs to earn some respect back after flying high as a top Big Ten contender in previous seasons.

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And with a good amount of roster turnover due to early and expected NFL departures and some changes on the coaching staff, not to mention a high-quality recruiting class coming in, Penn State enters the spring with a chip on its shoulder knowing it has something to prove. Fortunately, Penn State has a lot to look forward to in the 2022 season. Here are three key reasons for Penn State fans to be optimistic about the upcoming college football season in Happy Valley.

1. Manny Diaz an upgrade at defensive coordinator

Penn State lost defensive coordinator Brent Pry to an opportunity to be the head coach at Virginia Tech. The thought of losing one of James Franklin's top long-time assistants is a concerning one, but the tension was released with the addition of Diaz to fill the vacancy on the staff. Pry was a terrific defensive coordinator, but Diaz could arguably be an upgrade given his previous track record as a defensive coordinator and coach.

Miami making a head coaching change to replace Diaz with Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal could be one of those moves that work out for both the Hurricanes and Nittnay Lions. Not much needs to change with the entire defense, but Diaz should have the unit in good situations all season long.

2. Nicholas Singleton is the real deal at running back

Penn State's 2022 recruiting class was full of star power and big expectations. None join the program with bigger expectations than Singleton, the most decorated recruit in Penn State history after being named the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year. Quarterback Drew Allar has high expectations as well, but the running game is in need of a big-time running back capable of turning in big gains and Singleton appears to be that guy.

Related: College Football's Top 20 Impact True Freshmen for 2022

3. If the offensive line improves, the Penn State offense could be fun

There is a tremendous amount of pressure on the entire offensive line to show improvement in 2022. the addition of Cornell offensive lineman Hunter Nourzad should help once he arrives on the scene, but the entire line has room to improve in 2022. The bar for improvement should be pretty low considering Penn State's running game was atrocious in 2021 and quarterback Sean Clifford got beat up pretty well last year.

Even just slightly marginal improvement should benefit the entire offense because the pieces in place for a respectable offense do appear to be in place. You know what you are capable of getting from Clifford if he is protected. Parker Washington is a big-play receiver ready to be the go-to option. The tight end combination of Theo Johnson and Brenton Strange can be reliable. And the running backs have the potential to do some damage if they have room to run. So the success of the offensive line is the key ingredient for a successful offense, and it's not like it can get too much worse than a year ago, right?

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