Five Reasons This Year’s Nittany Lions Are James Franklin’s Most Talented Squad Yet

No. 10 Penn State football will make its highly-anticipated return to the field this Saturday against Appalachian State.

After seeing many fan favorites depart the program following last season’s Fiesta Bowl victory, James Franklin and his staff have had the unenviable task of reloading a roster that lost a ton of bona fide NFL talent. With stars like Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, and Marcus Allen leaving for the NFL, it would be understandable for Penn State to go through a down year.

However, this year’s version of the team might just be the most talented roster Franklin has assembled yet. Here are five reasons why this year’s Nittany Lions are as talented as ever.

Trace McSorley Is Back, Baby

There’s something to be said for the value of continuity and experience in leadership, which is why Trace McSorley will be vital to the Nittany Lions’ postseason hopes. Closet Penn State fan Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso even called the experienced quarterback their pre-season Heisman favorite.

That said, McSorley must adjust to losing backfield mate Saquon Barkley. Barkley routinely hogged the attention of opposing defenses last season, as evidenced by how many teams opted to stack the box against Penn State. That shifted defensive focus created opportunities outside in the passing game for McSorley and his receiving corps.

Without Barkley, McSorley is the center of attention on offense, so defenses will likely pivot to disrupting his passing rhythm. This could give a certain No. 24 plenty of room to shine.

No Saquon? No Problem.

Adequately replacing a player of Saquon Barkley’s caliber is nearly impossible, but James Franklin and his staff should be feeling just fine about their running game.

Miles Sanders was the top-ranked running back in the country for his recruiting class, and he’s patiently awaited his turn to start at the position. That turn has finally come.

Sanders performed well in limited action last season, rushing for 191 yards on 31 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per attempt. With defenses keying in on McSorley more this season, Sanders should have ample opportunity to provide solid production on the ground.

Welcome Back, John Reid

Penn State’s dealing with a complete turnover of its secondary from a season ago, with Troy Apke, Marcus Allen, Christian Campbell, and Grant Haley all departing for the NFL. Key rotation player Amani Oruwariye will return and likely occupy a starting position at cornerback, but the Nittany Lions will probably have two first-year starters at the safety positions.

Luckily for Franklin, he’ll be able to lean on the returning John Reid, who served as a key member of the cornerback rotation during his freshman and sophomore seasons.

A knee injury during spring ball kept him out of action for the duration of the 2017 season, but the fully healed No. 29 is now poised to play a key role. His experience should help ease whatever growing pains the Penn State secondary faces in the early weeks of the season.


Since James Franklin took over as head coach of the football team back in January of 2014, he has made recruiting one of his biggest priorities. However, he had inherited something of a lackluster roster of talent and depth due to weaker recruiting in the late 2000s and early 2010s (oh, and sanctions, of course).

Entering his fifth season as head coach, Franklin finally has a roster that is built completely from players of his choosing. The depth issues that plagued the Nittany Lions across the roster during the first couple of seasons under Franklin are no longer an issue.

It also helps that Franklin and his staff brought in the No. 6 recruiting class in the country in 2018. Several freshmen from that class could be ready to contribute right away.

Micah Parsons is expected to see significant time at linebacker, and fellow freshman Jahan Dotson was recently singled out on Twitter by offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne for his excellent performance during training camp.

Other key freshmen to watch this season include kicker Jake Pinegar, linebacker Jesse Luketa, running back Ricky Slade, and defensive end Jayson Oweh.

Strong O-Line

The offensive line was the position group hit hardest by the sanctions at the start of the decade. When James Franklin first took over the program, he was forced to convert several defensive tackles to offensive guards just to have enough bodies to fill out his depth chart.

But the days of makeshift linemen filling out the depth chart are over. The offensive line has steadily improved over the course of Franklin’s tenure, but this will be the first season that the offensive line could be a legitimate strength for the Nittany Lions.

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About the Author

Matthew Fox

Matt is a Senior from Lansdale Pennsylvania majoring in Broadcast Journalism. He loves sports, and is still patiently waiting for the Philadelphia Flyers to win a Stanley Cup. If you would ever like to reach out to Matt you can email him at [email protected].

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