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Staff Picks: Bold Predictions For Penn State Football’s 2021 Season

It’s almost time for Penn State football, folks!

We’re just over a week away from the Nittany Lions’ season-opening matchup on September 4 against Wisconsin. Coming off an uneven 4-5 season, Penn State will need some players to step up in order to successfully rebound and get back toward the top of the national rankings.

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

Frankie Marzano: Sean Clifford Will Take A Huge Step Forward

It’s no secret that Sean Clifford didn’t live up to expectations last season, but I think he will be able to reverse that this year. First of all, the difference between Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense and Mike Yurcich’s is night and day. Yurcich is known for getting the most out of his quarterbacks, and Clifford definitely has the talent to dominate on the football field.

Between having his second offensive coordinator in just his second season and the pandemic circumstances, Clifford wasn’t put in the best situation to succeed. Now, having an offensive coordinator with a very impressive track record and another year of experience under his belt, I think Clifford will become Penn State’s most important player on the field this season.

Tobey Prime: Joey Porter Jr. Will Lead The Big Ten In Interceptions

Penn State’s defense has me excited this year, especially the secondary. Lamont Wade moved on to the big leagues this past summer, which leaves a void for the next playmaker to make an impact. That player will be Joey Porter Jr.

Porter only had four pass breakups last year, but in this young and hungry defense this year, I see him becoming a star. His size, athleticism, and swagger just make me believe he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. Plus, playing alongside veteran Tariq Castro-Fields will benefit Porter in the long run. Expect a lot of picks from Porter this year, folks.

Jordan Mansberger: Keyvone Lee Will Flourish Under Mike Yurcich

Keyvone Lee will flourish under the Yurcich offense. I think it’s obvious, or it should be, that this offense is ready to advance the running game beyond the read-option. Lee has the size to be a battering ram and establish the run early and often in games. This will draw up defenses and will benefit Clifford off play-action as well.

Zach Donaldson: Jahan Dotson Will Be The Big Ten’s Leading Receiver

In his first season as Penn State’s No. 1 wide receiver, Dotson didn’t shy away from the spotlight.

The dynamic speedster posted 884 yards and eight touchdowns, both tops in the conference, and averaged just under 100 yards per game, which was good for third. Given his numbers and highlight-reel plays, only an All-Big Ten third-team selection for Dotson is insulting. But with COVID-19’s impact on the number of games played, it’s uncertain how others would’ve fared given an equal amount of opportunity.

This pick is especially bold when you look at the talent he’ll be competing with, including Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Purdue’s David Bell, and Rutgers’ Bo Melton. Dotson possesses the playmaking ability and explosiveness to double down on his crown and elevate Penn State’s offense in ways that not many of the others can.

Ryan Parsons: Penn State Loses To One Of Wisconsin, Iowa, Or Indiana But Beats Ohio State And Makes The College Football Playoff

Let’s flip the script this season, shall we? It’s no secret that Penn State has a tough, top-heavy schedule this season. Will Wisconsin, Ball State, and Auburn be too severe of an early season storm to weather? Does the Ohio State challenge come too early in the schedule? These are all valid questions, but I predict the Nittany Lions will come out of the season relatively unscathed.

Instead of a typical loss to the Buckeyes, I believe this Penn State team will beat Ohio State this time around. With a freshman quarterback in CJ Stroud, this might be the Nittany Lions’ best opportunity to win what is always their toughest game on the schedule as of late. However, with tough matchups against Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana sprinkled throughout the season, Penn State could easily drop one of those games. I predict a win over Ohio State with other resume-boosting wins over Auburn, Ball State, and two of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana would punch the Nittany Lions’ ticket to the Big Ten Championship game and even the College Football Playoff.

Gabe Angieri: Brandon Smith Will Earn All-Big Ten First Team Honors

This is the year for Brandon Smith’s breakout, folks.

The linebacker was a first-time starter last season after serving as a backup in 2019. In his new role, Smith totaled 37 tackles, two sacks, and one interception. He often showed off his impressive athleticism while making plays all over the field.

With a year as a starter now under his belt, I think the former five-star recruit is going to flat-out dominate en route to earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. I’m expecting 50+ tackles, at least five sacks, and three forced fumbles from the Virginia native. Don’t be surprised if Smith wins the Nittany Lions a game with a big-time play in crunch time, too.

Will Pegler: Penn State Will Lead The Big Ten In Rushing Yards

There’s no shortage of rushing talent in the Big Ten, notably Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim and Ohio State’s Master Teague, but Penn State clearly has one of the most experienced rooms in the league.

Noah Cain popped as a freshman but had his sophomore year cut short after a lower-body injury. However, all signs are pointing to him being poised to put on quite the revenge tour this fall. Outside of that bruising back, fellow junior Devyn Ford should provide plenty of key depth after earning valuable carries over his past two seasons.

Now pair those two with Baylor transfer John Lovett, who already has four seasons of college football under his belt in which he earned 1,673 yards, and two budding freshmen in Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes. Lee made some serious noise toward the end of Penn State’s campaign last fall, including a breakout campaign against Michigan, and there’s no shortage of confidence in his ability to build on his first year in Happy Valley.

Considering all of that, Ja’Juan Seider’s group should be discussed much more as one that could torch Big Ten defenses all season long. I see that happening early and often, as the group will finish the year as the statistical leaders of the conference.

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