College football is slowly approaching a normal return. It may be one without fans, but indications are for a normal-ish return, nonetheless. As a result, we're going to start seeing more top-25s and All-American picks roll in. On Tuesday, 247Sports went live with their initial top teams, and Penn State came in at No. 5 overall.
Here's what 247Sports had to say about placing the Lions just outside of the top 4.
Returning Production: 47th
This might be the year Penn State breaks through and reaches the CFB Playoff. The Nittany Lions return nine starters on offense. Losing speedy receiver KJ Hamler is unquestionably a huge blow – he was the instant offense in Happy Valley. But Penn State will feature one of the best running back groups in the country (Journey Brown, Noah Cain, Devyn Ford) alongside a QB (Sean Clifford) and o-line built to run the ball. In some ways bringing in Kirk Ciarrocca, a purveyor of a zone-heavy run system, is going to fit the offense even better than the team’s previous principles that often required the line to pull. Expect plenty of RPOs and longer developing downfield routes, which fits some of the Nittany Lions' unproven recieving pieces. Penn State’s losses are much heavier on defense (Yetur Gross-Matos, Garrett Taylor and a few other starters). Yet the Nittany Lions are going to be fine defensively thanks to a mix of elite recruiting and linebacker Micah Parsons, who will be on the short list of the best defensive players in college football next season. The Ohio State bugaboo remains for Penn State. But the Buckeyes do have to travel to Happy Valley this year.
Things seem to be falling into place for the Nittany Lions to have a big season, as long as they have enough time to soak in and execute Kirk Ciarrocca's vision for the offense. As mentioned above, the defense has some starters to replace, but are doing so with very high-upside players and will still have standout performers like Parsons, PJ Mustipher, Lamont Wade, and Shaka Toney leading the way.
The only Big Ten team to be ranked ahead of the Lions is Ohio State (No. 1). The other Big Ten teams to appear were Wisconsin (No. 10), Michigan (No. 17), and Minnesota (No. 18). Iowa, Indiana, and Nebraska were listed among those also receiving votes. Penn State's week two opponent, Virginia Tech, came in at No. 24.