With the 2019 College Football season now officially in the books thanks to LSU's national title win, the offseason is officially here. With the beginning of the offseason comes the endless wave of way-too-early top-25 rankings. They won't mean anything for the 2020 season in actuality, but they do provide a look at what people are thinking about some of the country's best teams as they begin preparations for a new year.
So far in these rankings, Penn State is proving to be a bit divisive among some of the college football minds. You won't find them outside of the top-15 on anyone's list, but there is a fairly wide range of rankings they have grabbed to this point.
The Nittany Lions have won at least 11 games in three out of the last four seasons, and coach James Franklin’s squad is primed for another run at double-digit victories. New offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca inherits a group that averaged 6.1 yards per play last year and brings back quarterback Sean Clifford (2,654 yards and 23 TDs) and a deep group of running backs, headlined by Journey Brown (890 yards). Finding a go-to receiver to replace KJ Hamler is a priority, but tight end Pat Freiermuth (43 catches) passed on the NFL for another season in Happy Valley. Four starters are back up front, providing optimism Penn State can cut down on its sacks allowed (32) from 2019. Linebacker Micah Parsons ranks among college football’s top returning defenders next fall, and the secondary got a boost with Tariq Castro-Fields’ decision to return for 2020. Coordinator Brent Pry is losing a few starters off a group that limited teams to just 16 points this season, but there’s more than enough young talent to keep the defense playing at a high level. Road matchups against Virginia Tech, Michigan and Nebraska are tough, but Penn State gets Ohio State at home on Oct. 24 next season.
Stewart Mandel, The Athletic
Former Minnesota OC Kirk Ciarrocca was a great hire by James Franklin. All four running backs who combined for nearly 400 yards in the Cotton Bowl are expected to return, along with QB Sean Clifford, standout TE Pat Freiermuth and four O-line starters. Penn State will have a few holes to fill on defense, but LB Micah Parsons will be an All-America candidate.
It would've been great to keep wide receiver KJ Hamler, who brought some danger to the Penn State offense. Even still, the Nittany Lions stand as the greatest threat to Ohio State in the Big Ten and a solid pick to land in a New Year's Six bowl or take home the conference championship outright and book a trip to the national semifinals.
James Franklin signed a longterm extension, and he continues to build the program toward a Playoff breakthrough with big recruiting classes. Sean Clifford, Journey Brown, Pat Freiermuth and Jahan Dotson lead what should be a high-scoring offense while Micah Parsons can step into Yetur Gross-Matos’ role as one of the best defenders in college football. Road trips to Virginia Tech and Michigan in the first five weeks won't be easy, but it still comes down to Ohio State. The Buckeyes which visit Happy Valley on Oct. 24.
The Nittany Lions have won 11 games and played in a New Year's Six bowl game in three of the past four seasons under James Franklin. Obviously, the next step for them is reaching the College Football Playoff, which won't be easy with Ohio State sitting atop the Big Ten East. Franklin hired Minnesota's Kirk Ciarrocca as offensive coordinator to replace Ricky Rhane, who was hired as Old Dominion's coach. Ciarrocca will try to get more out of quarterback Sean Clifford, who struggled down the stretch while battling an undisclosed injury. New offensive line coach Phil Trautwein will try to shore up a unit that allowed a whopping 32 sacks in 2019. PSU also loses Hamler, its top pass-catcher and most explosive offensive weapon. Defensively, the Nittany Lions lose top edge rusher Gross-Matos, who had 9.5 sacks. That said, All-American linebacker Micah Parsons and four other starters are expected back.
Brett McMurphy, Stadium
Former OCs Joe Moorhead and Ricky Rahne have gone on to head coaching positions, but despite turnover at the offensive coordinator position, James Franklin continues to have success with the Nittany Lions. With Franklin Penn State has won at least 11 games in three of the past four seasons for the first time in more than 50 years. New OC Kirk Ciarrocca, of Minnesota, will have depth at running back (Journey Brown and Noah Cain) in State College, although KJ Hamler left early for the NFL Draft. Sean Clifford (23 TD passes, seven interceptions) returns at quarterback.
James Franklin parlayed his name being floated at USC into an extension. Not that he didn't deserve it. Penn State is loaded at running back going in 2020. I can't wait to see Micah Parsons again at linebacker. Ohio State comes to Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions could be a darkhorse to win the East.
Do you think the pundits are right? Should Penn State be ranked higher? Weigh in below in the comments.