The 2018 Penn State football season was a disappointing one on many levels. After back-to-back 11 win seasons, the Lions regressed to 9-4, dropping three of those games by a total of eight points. Now James Franklin must replace not only Trace McSorley at quarterback, but a litany of other contributors on both side of the ball.
With all of this swirling around the program, our staff takes aim at the biggest storyline heading into the 2019 campaign.
Craig Fritz: Can Penn State's defense keep the team in games until Clifford gets comfortable enough to win games on his own?
Dan Smith: Can James Franklin change the narrative? The perception is out there, fair or not, that Franklin is a good recruiter whose gameday coaching blunders limit his team's ceiling against Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. Perception is reality in a sport defined by the recruiting trail. The 2019 Nittany Lions can't afford to drop those three games once again. Taking at least two out of those three would make a huge difference and set the program up for great success in the years to come.
Bill DiFilippo: With a new coach in place, some relatively new (or, in the case of Weston Carr) brand new faces, and a year of experience for much of the group, can the wide receivers get past the bad case of the dropsies that hurt them in 2018 and get back to being the explosive, field-stretching threats we saw in 2016 and 2017?
Jarrod Prugar: Can the defense live up to the hype? No shock the defense is getting praise, but they’re one of the most athletic groups PSU has had. If they live up to the hype it could be dangerous for the Nittany Lions.
Matt Filipovits: What means more, experience or talent? This is the most talented roster James Franklin has ever had, but they’re just so young. This is the season where we find out just how far pure talent can take you, and with most big games coming later in the year, it’s the perfect time for it.
John Morgan: Can Ricky Rahne get the offense going? After a frustrating season, Rahne leads an offense with plenty of talent, but a new QB and some questions to answer.
Michael Stanley: How quickly can the new guys get up to speed? If you follow the team, you know how dramatically the talent level has improved. How quickly the new players can get acclimated will completely dictate the success of this team.
Kevin Fay: I'll go more general and say what does the offense as a whole look like? Does the offensive line take the next step? Does Clifford make the right reads? Do the wide receivers still have a football catching allergy? What does the backfield rotation look like? I'm not sure we get many concrete answers in the month of September.
Nick Polak: James Franklin’s impact on the program. Fair or not, lots of people are using this season as a measuring stick for Franklin. With McSorley off to the NFL, most of the loaded 2016 roster’s starters are gone. Fans and media types will be watching closely to see how the players Franklin has recruited, many of whom were coerced thanks to that magical 2016 run, look stepping into featured roles. If they play to their ability, it’s a big-time feather in Franklin’s cap. If they falter, fans might start getting antsy.
Matt de Bear: Nick and Dan both touched on it, but this is a big year for James Franklin and the overall direction of the program. No, he's not on the hot seat, but last year's nine wins were rightfully seen as a underachievement after the success of 2016-17. He's now in year two of life after Saquon, Moorhead, and Co., and now must break in a new starting QB. A return to ten-plus wins and an exciting offense can put to rest a lot of doubts.