The college football season officially begins on Aug. 24, but it's never too early to start thinking about what might transpire this fall. Athlon Sports released its College Football Top 25 Rankings today and the Penn State Nittany Lions came in at No. 14.
Here's why: The Nittany Lions have won at least nine games in each of the last three seasons, and there's a good chance that streak extends to four in 2019. But in order to reach nine (or more) wins, Penn State has to find a replacement for quarterback Trace McSorley. Sophomore Sean Clifford played sparingly as McSorley's backup last season and is set for the starting role after Tommy Stevens transferred to Mississippi State. Clifford has a big-time arm, and the Nittany Lions have intriguing talent on the edge to utilize downfield. The best of the bunch is sophomore KJ Hamler (42 catches for 754 yards and five scores last season), with Jahan Dotson, Justin Shorter and transfers George Campbell (Florida State) and Weston Carr (Azusa Pacific) also poised to contribute. Tight end Pat Freiermuth caught 26 passes as a freshman last season and should be more involved in 2019. Miles Sanders left for the NFL after a terrific junior season, but the cupboard isn't bare at running back. Ricky Slade is likely to see the bulk of the carries, with Journey Brown, C.J. Holmes and freshmen Noah Cain and Devyn Ford rounding out a deep rotation. Three starters are back up front, but the left tackle spot is worth monitoring, as redshirt freshman Rasheed Walker is penciled in as the favorite to start. If Clifford and Penn State's offense needs a few games to find their footing, the defense provides an excellent insurance policy. The Nittany Lions held teams to 20.5 points a game and 4.7 yards per play in 2018. The strength of this unit is the front seven. End Yetur Gross-Matos is poised for All-America honors after recording 20 tackles for a loss and eight sacks last fall. Sophomore Micah Parsons is one of college football's rising stars at linebacker, joining an experienced starting trio that features Cam Brown and Jan Johnson. John Reid and Tariq Castro-Fields form a solid duo at cornerback. Michigan visits Happy Valley in 2019, but Penn State catches Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa on the road.
*An important note on Athlon's Top 25 for 2019: This is not a preseason ranking of teams going into the season. Instead, this ranking takes into account where we project teams to finish after the national championship in January. Here are Athlon's projected top 25 teams in college football for 2019.
Check out Athlon's entire College Football Top 25.