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A Way-Too-Early Look At Penn State Football’s Offense In 2020

The 2019 college football season just wrapped up on Monday night, but why not take a look at how the Nittany Lions’ roster is shaping up for next year?

While a few players have entered the transfer portal so far this offseason, James Franklin also picked up 27 commits in his 2020 recruiting class — 11 of whom enrolled at Penn State this semester. This large influx of young talent could bring several changes to the Nittany Lions’ depth chart entering the 2020 campaign.

We’re still eight months away from college football, but it’s never too early to start talking about it. With that in mind, here’s our projection of what Penn State’s offense could look like in 2020.

Quarterback

  • Sean Clifford, redshirt junior
  • Will Levis, redshirt sophomore
  • Michael Johnson Jr./Ta’Quan Roberson, sophomores
  • Micah Bowens, freshman

There’s not much of an argument that Sean Clifford will still have the keys to the offense next season, but Will Levis did get a chance to prove that he is a capable backup in 2019. The then-redshirt freshman relieved an injured Clifford against Ohio State and managed to rush for 34 yards and a touchdown. Levis didn’t look amazing in his first collegiate start (8-for-14 passing, 81 yards, one touchdown, one interception along with 108 rushing yards on 17 carries), but he led the Nittany Lions to a 27-6 win at home.

As for Michael Johnson Jr. and Ta’Quan Roberson, the pair likely won’t see the field much. In all likelihood, they’ll continue to battle for a third-string position during the offseason.

Micah Bowens is another player who will get a chance to learn under Clifford. The three-star, dual-threat quarterback out of Las Vegas will come to Happy Valley this summer, and he brings a ton of athleticism to an already-talented group.

Running Back

  • Journey Brown, redshirt junior
  • Noah Cain, sophomore
  • Ricky Slade, junior
  • Devyn Ford, sophomore
  • Caziah Holmes/Keyvone Lee, freshmen

Journey Brown and Noah Cain certainly separated themselves as the top options in Penn State’s backfield during the 2019 season. Brown led the way with 129 carries for 890 yards and 12 scores, and Cain added 443 yards and eight touchdowns as a true freshman.

Ricky Slade didn’t have the year that many expected in 2019, as he struggled to pick up consistent carries in a crowded backfield. The junior still made a few big plays, though, and he definitely earned some opportunities in 2020. How his offseason goes will be crucial in determining Slade’s role on offense.

Ja’Juan Seider’s running back room is only going to get more crowded this season, with returning young talent Devyn Ford along with four-star Florida natives Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee joining the fun.

Wide Receiver

  • Jahan Dotson, junior
  • Daniel George, redshirt sophomore
  • Cam Sullivan-Brown, redshirt junior
  • Mac Hippenhammer, redshirt junior
  • John Dunmore, sophomore
  • Keandre Lambert/Jaden Dottin/Parker Washington/Malick Meiga, freshmen

This position has gained the most offseason attention thus far, as KJ Hamler declared for the NFL Draft earlier this month and Justin Shorter entered the transfer portal. With that pair gone, Jahan Dotson will be relied upon as the most experienced wide receiver on the roster. Dotson hauled in 27 catches for 488 yards and five touchdowns in 2019, but he’ll likely get a lot more looks from his quarterback in 2020.

As for the rest of the group, nobody finished the 2019 season with double-digit catches, and none of them scored a touchdown.

While inexperience is on full display throughout this position group, there is also plenty of talent coming up the ranks. Three of the pass-catchers joining the 2020 class are ranked as four-star recruits, while three-star wide receiver Malick Meiga was ranked as the top player from his home province of Quebec in Canada.

Tight End

  • Pat Freiermuth, junior
  • Zack Kuntz, redshirt sophomore
  • Brenton Strange, sophomore
  • Theo Johnson, freshman

Pat Freiermuth is poised for a monumental junior season after two big years to start his college career. The 6’5″ tight end hauled in 43 grabs for 507 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019, and he nearly doubled his catch and yardage total from his freshman season.

As for Freiermuth’s backup, Zack Kuntz and Brenton Strange both got a couple of reps this past season, but the main backup role was mainly filled by graduate senior Nick Bowers. Kuntz caught just two passes in 2019 for 18 yards, while Strange’s only reception of his freshman season came in the form of a four-yard touchdown against Idaho.

The pair will also have to compete with highly-touted recruit Theo Johnson for snaps behind Freiermuth. Johnson was ranked as the third-best tight end in the entire recruiting class of 2020, and the No. 84 player in the class overall. Securing his commitment and eventual NLI was a huge, huge win for Penn State on the recruiting trail, as Johnson has the potential to follow in the footsteps of Freiermuth and Mike Gesicki.

Offensive Line

  • Will Fries, redshirt senior; Michal Menet, redshirt senior; Mike Miranda, redshirt senior; Rasheed Walker, redshirt sophomore; CJ Thorpe, redshirt junior
  • Des Holmes, redshirt junior
  • Juice Scruggs, redshirt sophomore
  • Bryce Effner, redshirt sophomore

Other than losing Steven Gonzalez to graduation, the Nittany Lions are returning a whole lot of talent and experience to their offensive line in 2020. All five of next season’s expected starters have already started or at least played meaningful snaps at their positions, including three redshirt seniors in Will Fries, Michal Menet, and Mike Miranda.

Des Holmes and Bryce Effner also bring plenty of depth to the unit, along with Juice Scruggs — who couldn’t suit up for any games in 2019 due to injuries sustained in a car accident over the summer.

Penn State also added five three-star offensive linemen to its 2020 recruiting class, all of whom will add even more depth to a senior-laden position group.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is Onward State's assistant sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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