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Staff Picks: Bold Predictions For Penn State Football’s 2020 Season

It’s been a long offseason, but we’re now less than two weeks away from Penn State football’s season opener.

The Nittany Lions will kick things off with a trip to Bloomington to take on Indiana on October 24. With an unprecedented delayed season on the horizon and plenty of opportunity for new players to step up, this 2020 campaign could be full of several surprises.

With that in mind, several of our staffers made some bold predictions for Penn State’s upcoming season.

Will Pegler: Sean Clifford Finishes With Second-Most Total Offensive Yards In Big Ten

In his first year starting at quarterback last fall, Sean Clifford finished his season averaging 254.7 yards of total offense per game, a mark that was good enough for fourth in the conference. With a year of experience under his belt and an electric Kirk Ciarrocca offense to flourish in, I expect Clifford to only improve upon that statistic.

While the redshirt junior won’t have his old buddy KJ Hamler to throw to, he still has star tight end Pat Freiermuth, experienced wideout Jahan Dotson, and several freshman pass-catchers waiting in the wings. Be ready for Clifford to continue to improve his on throwing ability, while also incorporating his running ability into his game.

Clifford will be a top quarterback in the Big Ten this season, and he’ll produce plenty of yards throughout the season. I expect him to finish second in this category behind just Ohio State’s Justin Fields.

Jackson Buchenauer: Penn State Beats Ohio State, Loses Trap Road Game

Penn State has a lot riding on its Halloween matchup against Ohio State. Most analysts agree this will be the game that decides the Big Ten East, and if Nittany Lions hold any hopes of a College Football Playoff appearance, they’ll need to pull away from Ohio State with a win. However, a win here guarantees nothing. Penn State still faces an uphill battle in a shortened eight-game season.

The two matchups to watch will be away against Michigan on November 28 and away against Nebraska on November 14. Both teams will try to play spoiler for Penn State.

Michigan in late November won’t produce ideal playing conditions, and these Wolverines are no joke. Although being sub-par for most of the Harbaugh era, Michigan is still a top program and should be treated as such.

Nebraska is a team that I’m very intrigued by coming into this season. Scott Frost has had little success with the Cornhuskers since coming over from UCF, but this could serve as their breakout year. Nonetheless, a November 14 matchup in enemy territory could prove as another trap game for the Nittany Lions.

Max Temple: Brandon Smith Emerges As Top Linebacker

After a year of learning as Micah Parsons’ backup, Brandon Smith will enter this season with key experiences under his belt and a chance to show off his talent to the country. After putting on weight since signing in December of 2018, he’s added mass that will help him become a serious threat to quarterbacks this year. This will be the year of Brandon Smith after he showed some potential last year with a few big hits.

Connor Krause: Jahan Dotson Leads Big Ten In Receiving Yards

After spending last year in the shadow of KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson will enter the 2020 campaign as Penn State’s top wide receiver. With two solid seasons of 40 total receptions under his belt, Dotson’s production will vastly increase by emerging as Sean Clifford’s favorite deep ball threat. 

With questions lingering in Penn State’s receiving core, Dotson is a sure-fire pick to have a season comparable in production to Allen Robinson in 2013.  He will edge Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman to take the Big Ten receiving crown for the season.

Owen Abbey: More Than One Game Will Be Postponed Due To The Coronavirus

I hate being a Debbie Downer. I’m as excited about Penn State football as everyone else is, but there are going to be hiccups along the way and I truly believe Penn State may have one of the higher chances of a postponement of all teams across the Big Ten.

All it takes is one simple mistake, whether it be going to a party or using the register after someone who doesn’t realize they have the coronavirus. While Penn State football has taken remarkable measures to keep its team healthy and safe, can they last all the way to December?

I hope I’m wrong. I want to be wrong! I would love to see the Nittany Lions play and have no hiccups whatsoever. But is that a reality? Just look at professional sports and how every major league had a coronavirus breakout. It’s very likely that the college game will experience it too, and my gut says Penn State is going to be right in the middle of it.

Gabe Angieri: Jayson Oweh Will Lead Big Ten In Sacks, Be Named First-Team All-Conference

Oweh spent last season as a rotational player for Brent Pry’s defense and still managed to finish tied for third on the team with five sacks. Now, the 6’5″, 253-pound defensive end is primed for a breakout season following the departure of Yetur Gross-Matos.

Oweh has received some national attention, most notably being included in the top 10 of Bruce Feldman’s college football “freaks” list for two consecutive seasons. He was able to put up a respectable sack number last season in limited playing time. Imagine what this guy can do as a full-time starter?

Expect a huge year out of Oweh, and don’t be surprised if he leads the conference in sacks and becomes the second-straight Nittany Lion defensive lineman (Gross-Matos in 2019) to be named first-team All-Big Ten.

Jordan Mansberger: Jesse Luketa Will Become Star Linebacker

With Micah Parsons opting out for the draft, more snaps for Jesse Luketa seems inevitable. We’ve seen glimpses of his earth-shattering hits, but this year I feel he’ll emerge as one of the best linebackers Penn State has had in a long time. He will be a downhill force in run defense and will lead the team in tackles. I expect the Ontario product to become the biggest star wearing No. 40 since Jason Cabinda.

Connor Donohue: KeAndre Lambert-Smith Becomes Penn State’s Top Wide Receiver

Did someone say bold? Well, I’m officially the conductor of the KeAndre Lambert-Smith hype train. The true freshman was a four-star prospect out of Norfolk, Va., and scouting reports say he’s got a good frame mixed with explosive playmaking ability.

Have I ever seen him play? No. Is Jahan Dotson going to be Clifford’s number one receiver? Probably. But with much uncertainty underneath Dotson, it leaves room for a player like Lambert-Smith to rise up the depth chart. Consider that with the fact that Jahan Dotson has had some consistency issues in his college career, watch out for Lambert-Smith. All aboard!

Ryan Parsons: Adisa Isaac Makes Case For First-Team Snaps

Isaac has one of the biggest upsides out of any defensive lineman on the Nittany Lions’ defense. I predict the young former four-star recruit will be competing with Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh for a starting role by the time the season is done.

Although he recorded only 1.5 sacks and 14 total tackles during his freshman campaign, his maturity and coachability will lead him to do great things this year. Toney has already described Isaac as “special,” and predicts he’ll end up being a first-round pick. The speed and agility he possesses at his size make him a prime candidate for a breakout season.

Although I think he’ll make waves on Penn State’s depth chart, this doesn’t mean I don’t think guys like Oweh and Toney won’t have great years. Oweh, a younger guy as well, will likely have a similar breakout-type season, too.

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