Counterpoint: Penn State is Ranked Just Right Heading Into the 2020 Season

By Matt de Bear on June 18, 2020 at 8:30 am
Sep 27, 2019; College Park, MD, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin looks on from the sidelines against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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On Wednesday, Nick shared his thoughts on why Penn State is getting too much credit heading into this fall's (possible) football season. Now, I don't want to throw him under the bus here, but Mr. Polak is dreadfully incorrect.

The "official" polls won't debut until sometime in August, but there is a litany of preseason prognostications already that are awfully bullish on the 2020 edition of the Nittany Lions. Analytic models SP+ and FPI both slot Penn State at No. 5. Athlon's preseason preview puts the Lions in the fifth spot as well. In fact, I haven't seen a preseason ranking that has Penn State any lower than CBSSports.com at No. 9.

I think that makes it official. There are lofty expectations for Penn State this season, and deservedly so.

The elite tier of the sport has clearly separated itself. This season, that list starts with Clemson and Ohio State. Plenty of folks are tossing Georgia into that tier as well, and we'd all be wise to include Alabama too, at least until Saban's squad proves otherwise. But after the first tier, it's wide open. While the Nittany Lions have questions of their own, it's fair to say theirs are not as big as most anyone else.

Consider, if you will, that Penn State has won 11 games in three of the last four seasons. The list of schools that can claim something similar is exceedingly short. Now, look at a roster that returns its starting quarterback, the nation's deepest stable of running back talent, and an All-American at tight end. For good measure, the big guys up front feature four returning starters, and as much experience as just about any group in the nation. There are questions to be answered, starting at wide receiver, and continuing into how quickly new coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca's offense takes hold without a spring's worth of workouts. I like the odds of that returning talent to figure it out. 

On the other side of the ball, there is not a more dominant defensive force in the game than linebacker Micah Parsons. He's joined by a linebacking corps featuring the likes of former five-star prospect and human missile Brandon Smith, as well as steady veterans Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks. Add in guys like Lance Dixon and incoming freshman Curtis Jacobs, and Linebacker U is in good hands. While it starts with that group, youngsters like Adisa Isaac and Jayson Oweh are set to take on bigger roles under new defensive line coach John Scott, while veterans like Shaka Toney, Shane Simmons, and PJ Mustipher add needed experience. No group has been more maligned than the Nittany Lion secondary, but a healthy Tariq Castro-Fields is a good place to start when talking about a rebound. Youngsters Marquis Wilson and Keaton Ellis showed plenty of promise as freshmen, and figure to take on more responsibility. Meanwhile, senior safeties Lamont Wade and Jaquan Brisker have one last chance to leave their mark. Are you going to bet against a group that has been among the nation's best just about every year under Brent Pry?

Don't get me wrong, there are question marks in Happy Valley. But aside from a few teams at the very top, everyone has them. More to the point, James Franklin has proven he can answer them as well as just about anyone in the nation.

I'm not expecting anything to change when this season kicks off in September.

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