Staff Predictions: Penn State Football’s 2017 Record
Finally, it’s almost here.
Penn State football is back for its most anticipated season in recent years. Heisman hopefuls Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley return to defend the team’s Big Ten title. With so much hype surrounding this group, our staff took its shot at predicting what lies ahead for James Franklin’s squad as it heads into the season opener Saturday against Akron.
David Abruzzese: 11-1
This is the season of dreams, folks. The world got a good, long look at the Nittany Lions in January during the Rose Bowl; Saquon Barkley is no longer the nation’s best-kept secret. Instead, he’s a legitimate frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy powering one of the best offenses in the country. The defense lost some talent, yes, but fresh, new faces are ready to keep the momentum rolling.
People talk about championship windows and how long they feasibly remain open for. Penn State’s is wide open, and the time to produce is right now. I firmly believe this team can run the table, but that all depends on how healthy this group can stay. If no major injuries occur, I don’t see how anybody can beat this team — on paper.
I do see a loss in this team’s future, though I hope I’m wrong. No, it won’t be on the road in Columbus, nor will it be the Whiteout clash with Michigan. Northwestern is an extremely underrated opponent, and Ryan Field is no easy place to play — just ask James Franklin and his 2015 team. Pundits across the country say Penn State’s “gauntlet” begins against the Wolverines, but I argue it starts with the Wildcats. This said, if Penn State can withstand its brutal road stretch and capture another Big Ten title, there will be no controversial omissions from the Playoff this year. Despite the blemish, I predict the Nittany Lions will sneak into the College Football Playoff with an 11-1 record, and yes, I’ll go on the record to say that Penn State will be your 2017 national champion.
Mitch Stewart: 11-1
The 2017 season brings a level of preseason hype for Penn State that many folks around the program have never seen before. With two potential Heisman contenders in the backfield, an experienced defense, and loads of confidence, the Nittany Lions are among the most legitimate college football playoff contenders in the country.
With a rough stretch of games in the middle of the season (@ Northwestern, Whiteout vs. Michigan, @ Ohio State, @ Michigan State), I would be surprised if James Franklin’s crew makes it through the regular season unscathed. However, we saw last year that a conference loss doesn’t always derail a trophy-caliber season. I believe Penn State will win the division, the conference, and earn a chance in the playoffs after being left out of the top four a season ago.
Elissa Hill: 9-3
The commenters said I was a homer for predicting a 9-3 record last season. We all know how that turned out. After an impressive summer of preseason hype, I’ll probably be criticized for a maybe-too-conservative prediction this year. Ya win some, ya lose some — quite literally.
The Nittany Lions have a tough mid-season stretch ahead of them, but for now: Akron, Akron, Akron, Akron, Akron. If you’re searching for consistent disappointment, please know I just couldn’t get a good Boomerang of myself performing Trace McSorley’s touchdown-celebration-baseball-move while playing mini golf this summer. If you’re here for a little preseason encouragement, remember this: Win or lose, the folks will tailgate.
Matt Castle: 12-0
The Nittany Lions are coming off of a terrific and somewhat surprising 2016 season that culminated in a game for the ages against USC in the Rose Bowl. With the largest amount of anticipation Happy Valley has seen in quite some time, there will be nothing surprising about Penn State’s 2017 campaign. I predict that the Nittany Lions will run the table and finish the regular season 12-0.
They have a tough slate of games down the stretch, including a trip to Columbus to take on Ohio State, however, I think the Nittany Lions have enough weapons on offense to put them over the top. After demolishing whatever scrub comes out of the Big Ten West division, Penn State will ultimately punch its ticket to the program’s first ever college football playoff. Last season gave Happy Valley a taste for success, and now this team is hungry to compete on the national scene.
Steve Connelly: 7-5
On paper, at full strength, Penn State is a phenomenal football team. But just about anything could go wrong to derail this group.
Can everyone stay healthy for an entire season? After last year’s debacle at linebacker, it’s clear if the injury bug bites, the team will be tested. Now this year if Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley, or Mike Gesicki go down, would the Nittany Lions be able to recover from that and still produce those insane offensive numbers from 2016?
The schedule is also more difficult than in 2016, especially in the heart of the Big Ten slate. Traveling to Iowa and Northwestern to begin the conference stretch, then facing the division’s version of death row against Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State in succession, coming away from those games unscathed just isn’t happening.
Even if Penn State can hold it together offensively, the defense isn’t entirely convincing minus both starting defensive ends, an All-Big Ten honorable mention linebacker, and a few key pieces in the secondary. Even with those players, the defense struggled at times — including the Rose Bowl where it got bamboozled by Sam Darnold and the USC Trojans.
Anything’s possible for the Nittany Lions, but when does the luck run out for a team that continually needed second half comebacks, big plays, and absolute insanity to forge last year’s remarkable season?
Tim Reams: 11-1
Three words. Big. Ten. Champions. Penn State is as deep as it could be as a team, and have only continued to add impressive recruiting classes that are now coming to fruition for the team. Being that the Nittany Lions are now in the toughest conference in college football (you read that correctly) their work will certainly be cut out for them.
No game will be given in the Big Ten, but the Nittany Lions are riding a wave that is seemingly unstoppable when all goes according to plan. I foresee this season ending with the Nittany Lions finishing atop the Big Ten, and at the No. 4 slot in the College Football Playoff. Saquon will be the Heisman winner. Tommy Stevens will be the quarterback by the end of the season. These are bold takes, but I stand behind them firmly. Maybe a USC rematch will be in store? We will have to wait and see, but I believe the Nittany Lions will finish with just one loss under their belt.
Anthony Colucci: 12-0
Maybe it’s the magic from last year still wearing off or all the excitement emanating from media outlets about the country about this Penn State team, but there is no reason the Nittany Lions shouldn’t win every game this season.
Their schedule will be a bit tougher than last season with Nebraska and Northwestern replacing Purdue and Indiana, and they’ll have to run through a gauntlet of opponents from Weeks 6-10, but the Nittany Lions are the most dynamic offensive team, have a widely experienced, talented, and deep defensive group, and possess a reliable special teams unit made up of skilled specialists and would-be skill position starters.
The main reason I am so confident though is Penn State’s depth at quarterback and running back, where its two best players play, much like Ohio State in 2014. And, unfortunately, we all know how that year turned out and the benefit of the doubt that team got.
Mikey Mandarino: 9-3
The sheer amount of interest surrounding the Penn State football team this year is unprecedented in program history, but I’m not sure the expectation of a playoff appearance will be fulfilled by the Lions this year. Don’t get me wrong, the offense is incredible, and there is no questioning the talent of Saquon Barkley & Trace McSorley, but I’m not sure this team can sustain last season’s form.
The team was over-reliant on miraculous second-half comebacks, which, though extremely exciting, isn’t a sustainable way to have success in college football. I think Penn State will do fairly well this year, but the away Iowa game has “trap” written all over it. Additionally, Michigan and Ohio State are two extremely difficult away matchups the Lions will struggle with. Their defense was not shut down against elite competition, save for Ohio State, so I think Penn State will win nine games this year.
Derek Bannister: 11-1
I sincerely believe that Penn State will avoid a hangover season after last year’s breakout performance. Confidence is through the roof in Happy Valley — and for good reason. The offense figures to be just about unstoppable. Saquon Barkley is a Heisman frontrunner, Mike Gesicki is arguably the best receiving tight end in the country, and Trace McSorley has proven his ability and composure in and outside of the pocket.
Even the offensive line — a point of immense sadness in recent years — appears to be in its strongest state in a while. Young studs like Connor McGovern and Will Fries more than held their own last fall, and will only continue to improve.
The defensive side of the ball is a little bit less exciting, but depth on the defensive line and in the secondary should be enough to support a stingy defense. Jason Cabinda, Marcus Allen, and Grant Haley will provide strong leadership. It is amazing what a difference a year can make. Now, instead of looking to play well enough to secure James Franklin’s future, the Nittany Lions will be looking to avoid traps. If Penn State can avoid lackluster performances at Iowa and Northwestern, I believe its only loss will come at Ohio State, who will be about as good as ever.
Jim Davidson: 12-0
Saquon Barkley hurdled a guy last year, and Trace McSorley does that cool baseball bat swing celebration after every touchdown. So if you think this team’s record is going to be anything other than perfect, sorry friend, you’re wrong.
I don’t know much about football, but I’m sure that the loss of Peppers has taken some of the spice out of Michigan. And Ohio State was shut out in the playoffs last year. After those two, who’s left over? Iowa? Please.
Navin Zachariah: 10-2
On paper this looks like it could be an incredible year for the Nittany Lions. The team has two potential Heisman Trophy candidates, two preseason first team All-Americans, and all the confidence in the world after last year’s breakout campaign.
Trace McSorley will continue to force the defense off the line by using his well-equipped deep ball. Saquon Barkley hopes to come back even more dangerous than he was in his dominant performance against the USC Trojans, if that is even remotely possible. Another weapon that returns to McSorley and this high-octane offense is senior Mike Gesicki.
The defense returns a hefty portion of its core including captain Jason Cabinda, Marcus Allen, and Grant Haley. There is, however, one position that is still questionable: wide receiver. A big part of the Nittany Lions’ success against the Trojans in the Rose Bowl was wide receiver Chris Godwin. Not only did Godwin put up big numbers in that game, but he was also consistently reliable for the Lions the entire year. Last season he ended up with almost 1,000 total yards and 11 touchdowns. A big part of McSorley’s breakout season last year was because of Godwin’s ability to reel in anything thrown in his vicinity. I really believe Penn State will sorely miss him this year.
Sure senior Saeed Blacknall put up huge numbers against the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game, but it is consistency McSorley will need from at least one of his deep threats this season. Hopefully either Blacknall or senior DaeSean Hamilton can step up and be that guy for McSorley. Otherwise, this entire offense becomes much less dynamic, allowing defenses to key in on Barkley more.
With all that said, I’m picking a 10-2 season. First, it’s going to be tough to beat the Buckeyes two seasons in a row, especially with J.T. Barrett somehow still in college for what feels like his sixth season now. And I also believe the Nittany Lions face one trap game this year in Evanston against Northwestern. The Wildcats are a team returning their quarterback and running back on offense this season. But much like the Lions, they are missing their top-receiving target from last season as well. I think Penn State manages to get to 10 wins with this schedule, especially since I’m not as high as others are on this extremely young Michigan team.
Ethan Kasales: 11-1
Something about that Michigan State game on Nov. 4 rubs me the wrong way. There’s no shortage of bulletin board material in this series, as the last three contests have all been blowouts: 34-10, 55-16, 45-12. In this scenario, Penn State comes out on top the previous two weeks versus Michigan and Ohio State, meaning its goal of reaching a second straight Big Ten championship would still be very much intact.
The Nittany Lions followed up their 2008 Rose Bowl run with another 11-2 season. Why can’t they take it one step further this time around?