Staff Predictions: Penn State Football’s 2018 Record

Penn State football is back, baby.

The Nittany Lions may have lost plenty of talent to the NFL Draft from last season’s Fiesta Bowl champions, but expectations are sky high in Happy Valley entering the 2018 season. Our staff took a shot at predicting the team’s final record this season ahead of its opening-day clash with Appalachian State.

Elissa Hill: 12-0

Let’s go, baby. With a whole lot of moxie from Trace McSorley and all of Penn State’s biggest matchups at home, this feels like a lucky season for Penn State if there ever was one. Even on the road at the Big House, I’m predicting Jim Harbaugh will be no match for James Franklin’s squad. Full disclosure: I watched the full season of All or Nothing in one night and I wasn’t impressed. Penn State’s veterans will hold down the fort this year with just enough young blood mixed in to give the Nittany Lions an edge that only comes from an elite recruiting class. Call me a homer and you’re probably right, but I’m optimistic for a record-setting season.

Derek Bannister: 12-0

James Franklin has a whole lot of talent at his disposal, as well as experience where it really matters: quarterback. Trace McSorley will put up numbers that get him invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, and Miles Sanders will show everyone why he was the top recruit in his class. The defense must fix certain things in the first few games of the season, but Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa will come to dominate the front seven. 12-0 is bold, but if there is a year for it to happen, I think it’s this year.

Steve Connelly: 9-3

The schedule is just too much this season for Penn State to secure another 10-win season prior to the bowl game. First and foremost, a November game at Michigan is the most difficult on the schedule and not one that a young team like Penn State should be able to win. Add in the three powerhouses that Penn State brings into Beaver Stadium (Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin), the Nittany Lions are bound to fall to one — with my money on Michigan State. It’s usually a fair bet that Penn State loses a game that makes absolutely no sense (Michigan State last year, Pitt two years ago, and Temple in 2015). Let’s go with Indiana this year because even when they survive, the Nittany Lions always have issues in Bloomington.

Mikey Mandarino: 10-2

It’s hard to see Penn State lose more than two games, especially given the fact that some of its biggest matchups will be played at Beaver Stadium. Although taking on Ohio State, Michigan State, and Wisconsin at home is a massive plus, I do think this is the year when students in the class of 2020 witness the team lose at Beaver Stadium for the first time. As a junior myself, it’s impossible for me to imagine what it’s like to watch a Penn State loss at Beaver Stadium, but I think the team loses at least one of those marquee matchups. As for the other loss? *ducks for cover* Michigan. The Big House is not an easy place to win a football game in as a visitor.

Mitch Stewart: 11-1

Penn State has a favorable home schedule in a season that features crossover games with Iowa and Wisconsin — both at Beaver Stadium. Add the Nittany Lions’ two revenge games from the 2017 season, Ohio State and Michigan State, to the home slate on top of that. If Trace McSorley can maintain his undefeated record at home, the Nittany Lions could be in the playoff this winter. Even if Penn State goes 3-1 in those home games, a win over Michigan could be enough to take the division title.

The difference in a playoff berth and finishing third or fourth in the Big Ten East lies within the spine of the defense. Cothran, Cothren, Cabinda, Bowen, Allen, and Apke are all gone from the middle of the defense. If those spots can be filled effectively, expect a banner year for James Franklin’s team.

Matt Paolizzi: 10-2

Don’t get me wrong — this is a very talented team. Miles Sanders will be a stud, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins are absolute weapons, and Tommy Stevens is dynamite when used correctly. On defense, Koa Farmer and John Reid will anchor a solid unit with a mix of promising youngsters and grizzled vets. The Nittany Lions also have a favorable schedule. Iowa, who beat Ohio State and gave the Nittany Lions a run for their money at Kinnick Stadium last year, will be pacified in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan State will all travel to Happy Valley, as will the always-crafty Maryland Terrapins. Unless Big Ten bottom feeders Rutgers, Illinois, or Indiana or out-of-conference teams App State, Kent State, or Pitt surprise, things should go smoothly.

It’s gutsy that even the incredible home field advantage Beaver Stadium brings can successfully go 3-0 against three of the best teams in the country. A game at Michigan will give the Nittany Lions a taste of their own medicine with more than 100,000 people cheering against them instead of for them. Penn State hasn’t won in Ann Arbor since 2009, so it’ll be a challenge for sure.

At the end of the day, the season comes down to one man: Trace McSorley. He has to put in a Heisman-caliber performance this season, not just the brief flashes that we’ve seen the past two years. The Nittany Lions need extreme growth both in leadership and performance. No more silly picks. No more rash decisions. He has the talent, he has the weapons, and if he can deliver, Penn State might do much better than 10-2.

Anthony Fiset: 12-0

This is the year for James Franklin and company. Trace McSorley is an early favorite to strike the pose in New York at season’s end, and he’s at the helm of what’s been a juggernaut offense in the past few years. He also gets the benefit of having one of the most experienced offensive lines Happy Valley has seen in years. Another benefactor of the hogs up front will be WPIAL legend Miles Sanders. Better yet, he’ll have more room to run without the entire defense stacked in the box every game, as Saquon Barkley dealt with last season.

Franklin has been recruiting like a maniac the past few years, making Penn State one of the most talented teams in the FBS. Plus, all of the Nittany Lions’ tough matchups come at home, and I have literally never seen Penn State lose at home. Ohio State is no match for the White Out. A rainstorm saved Michigan State’s ass last year, and they won’t be so lucky this time around at Beaver Stadium. Then what? Wisconsin? The perennial Big Ten runner-ups? Easy. Yeah, the Nittany Lions still have to travel to the Big House, but I think Jim Harbaugh’s goon squad is way overrated this season. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the College Football Playoff or bust for the Nittany Lions.

Ethan Kasales: 11-1

The Big House hasn’t been friendly to Penn State in recent years, and I expect the Wolverines to serve as the lone stumbling block this season. In what will again be a crazy Big Ten East race, the Nittany Lions would certainly still be in the conference championship conversation even with a loss to Michigan.

Navin Zachariah: 11-1

Although the Nittany Lions’ schedule does look tough this year, I think it will help that most of those challenging games will be held at Beaver Stadium. Penn Staters might witness one loss in Happy Valley when the Buckeyes have a chance to take control of the Big Ten East. The rest of the schedule won’t be easy, but I do think that an away game against Michigan won’t be as close as most may think. Trace McSorley won’t win the Heisman, but he’ll do just enough to get Penn State to the College Football Playoff and Miles Sanders will electrify Beaver Stadium all season long.

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