Head Coach: James Franklin
2016 Record: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten)
Over 9.5 wins (-122); Under 9.5 wins (+101)
Odds to win Big Ten Championship Game: +525
Odds to win 2017 Title: +1906
Odds c/o Bookmaker
Penn State has pretty much moved way past the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Maybe that is an understatement, following a season in which the school posted its fifth-highest scoring average in program history. Even after winning 11 games and such success, head coach James Franklin continues to raise the bar on a team talented enough to meet his expectations.
Franklin is gunning after the 1994 team’s 47 point scoring average, and if trends continue in Pennsylvania, he just may pull that off.
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The Nittany Lions return star running back Saquon Barkley, the 2016 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, as well as QB Trace McSorley, the MVP of the Big Ten Championship. With its top two players returning, last year’s underdog Big Ten champions become this year’s favorites.
Barkley was sensational last season, with nearly 1,500 yards and 18 TDs. He also had 306 all-purpose yards and three TDs in the Rose Bowl. McSorley set school records for passing yards, TDs, and total offense (3,979 yards). Penn State is a dominant offensive team. The Lions will have to do some work in replacing top receiver Chris Godwin, but Juwan Johnson should see an uptick in targets, as well as DaeSean Hamilton and Said Blacknall.
The Lions also return starting TE Mike Gesicki, who had 48 catches for 679 yards last year, as well as five TDs— all of which also set school records. With record setting talents lacing it up again this season, it becomes easy to see why Franklin has that 47-point bar set for the team’s offensive production. It is doable. It is all the more possible given that the OL returns four starters and adds a four-star recruit in Michal Menet, who was redshirted last year.
The defense returns seven starters, including Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen. Allen contemplated entering the NFL draft, but PSU is quite pleased to return one of its top defensive talents in a unit that was pretty decent last year. PSU gave up 25.4 points per game and ranked top-50 in rush and pass defense. Just being that solid again would be enough to propel this team to contention, given the beaming things we’ve already touched on with their offensive talents.
There are some question marks in the secondary, particularly at the cornerback positions, where Grant Haley is one certainty but the other spot remains murky.
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The Nittany Lions have a top place kicker in Tyler Davis, who nailed 22 of 24 field goals last year while being named to the Big Ten First team. Punter Blake Gillikan averaged 42.8 yards per punt, which set a PSU freshman record. The Lions will have to find better punt and kick returners but should have enough depth to field a decent option after failing to have done so a season ago.
It is hard to be too bullish on PSU with its top players returning, and to see the team be even better than last year’s success should not surprise fans. No one expected PSU to win the Big Ten last year, but this year the Lions will have a target on their back when they face Ohio State, Michigan and the other powerhouses in the conference.
There can be no more sneaking up on them. Perhaps Franklin wants it that way. High expectations can drive players to achieve greater things still, and this team has enough talent, particularly on offense, to contend for a National Title.
Certainly, at nearly +2000, PSU makes one of the more interesting value bets in that Futures bet.
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