Penn State’s promising 2017 season may have hit a roadblock in the middle of Big Ten play, but the Nittany Lions continue to roar on a national level under the leadership of James Franklin. This season, however, could pose some tough challenges for Franklin and Penn State as they look to keep Penn State in the thick of a Big Ten title hunt, and possibly more if things go well.
The 2018 season will see some significant changes with a new offensive coordinator and the loss of Saquon Barkley and a couple other talented NFL prospects. Beginning this spring, Penn State will look to replace some big shoes on the field at multiple positions on both sides of the football as the work begins to try and field another Big Ten contender in the fall.
5 Storylines to Watch During Penn State’s Spring Practice
1. Is Miles Sanders ready to carry the ball?
Penn State must replace Saquon Barkley, who could be one of the top players chosen in the NFL draft. Doing so will not be easy, but Sanders didn’t come to Penn State as some under-the-radar running back either. Now a junior, Sanders will finally get his chance to shine in the offense as the featured running back. The former five-star prospect has yet to start a game for the Nittany Lions, but he got some more work during the Fiesta Bowl to prepare him for what is to come as Barkley moves on. Depth may be a slight concern at running back, but incoming freshman Ricky Slade will help ease that concern when he arrives in the fall.
2. Penn State replaces another NFL-bound wide receiver
A year after losing Chris Godwin to the NFL, now Penn State is losing DaeSean Hamilton (and tight end Mike Gesicki). The good news for Penn State is the wide receiver position has players in the fold and a couple of them should compete for some serious consideration for starting jobs in the offense. Brandon Polk figures to be stepping up his role in the offense this year, but Mac Hippenhammer and K.J. Hamler could provide some options worth getting involved as well.
3. Ricky Rahne takes control as offensive coordinator
Among the notable departures from Penn State this offseason is offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who has left to become the head coach at Mississippi State. Rahne received an in-house promotion to take over the role on the staff and it remains to be seen how much changes, if anything, with the offensive system. Rahne previously handled the passing game, so don’t count on too much happening in the grand scheme of things, but the spring game could give a preview of what to expect in the fall.
4. Young defensive players ready to shine?
Two of the top defensive players recruited by Penn State over the past couple of years are safety Lamont Wade and linebacker Micah Parsons. Both could jump right in the mix for starting jobs this spring, although Parsons may have to wait his turn before he is deemed ready to go as a starter even after enrolling early this spring. Wade has already put in a year with the program however and could emerge as a favorite to fill one of the spots at safety out of the spring.
5. Who backs up Trace McSorley?
With McSorley (above, right) back for his third year as the starting quarterback, the only question is what happens in the event Penn State needs to replace him for any reason? As last season proved between Alabama and the Philadelphia Eagles, having a trusty backup option in place is critical. Tommy Stevens found other ways to be involved in the offense last season, and Sean Clifford remains a popular pick to be Penn State’s next starting quarterback.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.