Allow me to start by saying that I am very happy to see the Lions ranked where they are in the preseason top-25 polls. The fact that they are already garnering this respect bodes well for how they will be perceived when the poll that matters, the College Football Playoff, rolls around. There are still many more preseason polls yet to be released, including the two that..well, none of them matter, but the AP Poll and Coaches Poll are at least informative. But given where we've seen the Lions in polls from places such as 247Sports and Athlon, it's safe to say that we can expect to see them officially ranked somewhere around No. 5 when the season begins.
And I am here today to tell you that I think that is too complimentary of James Franklin's squad, and that they are being slightly overrated.
That sounds harsh, I know. And my goal is not to draw your ire here, Penn State fans. But speaking impartially, I simply think that the preseason polls are overrating the Nittany Lions for what they currently are. And what they currently are, is a team with a brand new offensive coordinator/quarterback coach, offensive line coach, wide receiver coach, and defensive line coach, only one receiver with 10+ catches a year ago, and at least nine new starters.
All of that would normally be enough to predict a potential rocky start for a team, but given the lack of anything even remotely resembling a normal offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I remain a little skeptical that things will click right off the bat. I do think that Franklin knocked it out of the park with all of his hires this offseason, but the main reason for my excitement stems from what I think each will bring to the table as teachers of the game. I know they've been studying the playbook and engaging in Zoom calls, but I don't think that's enough to replicate a full slate of spring and fall practices.
There are simply too many unknowns for me to feel comfortable saying that this is the fifth-best team in the country right now. I am confident that they'll get there once the season begins and they get some live reps in, but they'll need time.
Now, this doesn't mean that I don't understand why they are ranked here. Penn State has been one of the most consistent teams in the country over the past five years and deserves to be given the benefit of the doubt to a degree. There's also the matter of the teams around them. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and Georgia clearly sit on a pedestal at the top right now. But after that, things get murky and everyone has questions. Is Kyle Trask good enough to lead Florida to the top-five? Is Notre Dame ever going to be more than they have been with Ian Book? Can Oklahoma find success with an inexperienced signal-caller instead of their usual transfer? LSU is replacing nearly its entire starting lineup, will they be able to do so flawlessly and without Joe Burrow and Joe Brady?
So in reality, ranking the middle-section of the top-ten really comes down to which questions you think will be answered most easily. I think Penn State has playoff potential this year, but I think its questions will require more time to answer than the others, and for that, I think that they are likely going to start this season ranked too highly.