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Projecting Penn State Football’s 2023 Starting Lineup: Quarterback & Running Back

Penn State football’s season will be underway in less than two weeks, and the Nittany Lions will host West Virginia on September 2.

James Franklin’s team went 11-2 last season, culminating in a Rose Bowl victory. The Nittany Lions started 5-0 before dropping two games in three weeks to Michigan and Ohio State and then ripped off another five-straight victories to close out the campaign.

Now, Penn State is receiving its most preseason hype since it sat at No. 6 in the preseason AP Top 25 Poll in 2017. Both a Big Ten championship berth and a trip to the College Football Playoff are legitimate possibilities based on stockpiled depth at nearly every position.

Penn State’s quarterback and running back rooms are two marquee factors behind the preseason luster. While a starting signal-caller has yet to be named, former five-star gunslinger Drew Allar will likely step in as Sean Clifford’s heir apparent under center. Meanwhile, the duo of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen boast one of the most productive returning running back rooms in the Big Ten.

Let’s predict who ends up starting at both positions that could end up propelling Penn State to unforeseen heights this season.


  • Starter: Drew Allar
  • Backup: Beau Pribula
  • Reserve: Jaxon Smolik

Franklin hasn’t publicly revealed who the starting quarterback will be, but all signs point to Drew Allar landing the job. The Ohio native has more experience than fellow second-year teammate, Beau Pribula. In 10 appearances last season, Allar completed 35 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns, while Pribula didn’t see any action.

Additionally, Allar is widely viewed as having the highest ceiling of the two. He was ranked the best quarterback in the Class of 2022 by 247Sports, and he’s even been compared to Josh Allen given his arm strength and 6’5,” 243-pound build.

As for Jaxon Smolik, he should be the third-string behind Allar and Pribula. Barring something unforeseen, it’s unlikely he’ll see any action this season.

Running Back

  • Starters: Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen
  • Backup: Trey Potts
  • Reserves: Tyler Holzworth, Tank Smith, Amiel Davis, Cam Wallace, Landon Montgomery

Second-year staples Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen are slated to likely split reps this season, according to position coach Ja’Juan Seider. The duo rushed for a combined 1,928 yards and 22 touchdowns as true freshman products last year. Penn State’s backfield should be one of the most diverse, in terms of personnel and running styles, nationwide this go-around.

Although Singleton and Allen should see a similar number of carries, Singleton could end up with more, barring any potential injuries. The Shillington, Pennsylvania, native led the Nittany Lions in total production with 1,061 yards and 12 touchdowns on 11 fewer attempts.

Additionally, Singleton’s speed is incredibly dangerous, as he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash time this offseason and had a remarkable 87-yard touchdown run in the Rose Bowl. With an improved offensive line, Singleton will have even more opportunities to break free and outrun opposing defenses.

Allen, meanwhile, had 867 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He complied three scores in Penn State’s 45-14 win over Indiana and posted another multi-touchdown outing against Auburn.

Meanwhile, the arrival of redshirt senior Trey Potts from Minnesota improves Penn State’s depth at the position. If Allen or Singleton catch the injury bug, Potts’ previous production shows his ability to step in as a serviceable replacement.

The Williamsport, Pennsylvania, native has compiled 1,195 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in his career, which has almost entirely entailed playing behind former Golden Gopher Mohamed Ibrahim until now. Although he’s unlikely to play much with Singleton and Allen in the mix, his addition as a depth piece only strengthens the Nittany Lions’ running back room.

Elsewhere, Tyler Holzworth, Tank Smith, and Amiel Davis, combined with true freshmen Cam Wallace and Landon Montgomery should make up the reserves. None of the five bruisers have significant experience, and within Penn State’s already-crowded backfield, it’s hard to see this changing.

It’s clear that this backfield is a force to be reckoned with. Expect the running game to be used with similar frequency as last season while the new starting quarterback takes time to get his feet wet. And, with the aforementioned improved offensive line, it’s likely this unit takes another big step forward in 2023.

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About the Author

Nolan Wick

Nolan is a third-year journalism major from Silver Spring, Maryland. He's an avid fan of all D.C. sports teams and Liverpool F.C. If Nolan isn't writing about or watching sports, you can probably find him listening to all sorts of music or traveling. To keep up with Nolan, you can follow him on Twitter @nolan_wick or email him at [email protected].

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