Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: James Franklin
2015 Record: 7-6
2015 Bowl: 24-17 Loss to Georgia at TaxSlayer Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 7 Offense, 5 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +37000
Odds to win 2016 Big Ten Championship: +4000
Regular Season over/under: over 7 (-125), under 7 (+105)
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Trace McSorley will be the starting QB for the Penn State Nittany Lions, who finished the Christian Hackenberg era 7-6 last season. McSorley completed 23 of 27 passes in the Blue-White game in April, for 281 yards and four TDs playing with the first team offense. McSorley is good throwing in the pocket and on the move, and new OC Joe Moorhead will utilize a no-huddle offense with him this season.
At RB, PSU has Saquon Barkley, who set a Penn State freshman record with 1,076 yards last season. WR Chris Godwin caught 69 passes for 1,101 yards, which was No. 2 all-time in school history.
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Penn State has a lot of depth a WR, with returning starters DaeSean Hamilton and Saeed Blacknall both bringing experience and plenty of talent. On the OL, four starters return, Andrew Nelson, Paris Palmer, Brian Gaia and Brendan Mahon. All four shifted positions during spring, with Nelson and Palmer swapping sides and Gaia moving to the center.
Mahon moved from T to G. The offense does have a new coordinator this season and a new QB, and that will require adjustment for everyone. PSU also allowed 39 sacks last season, so its returning lineman need to improve on their own merits, too, of course.
Garrett Sickles is the only returning player on the DL, which suffers the losses of Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel to the NFL. Evan Schwan will start at DE opposite Sickles, and Parker Cothren and Kevin Givens are the tackles.
Givens is a redshirt freshman who starred in the spring, and he has developed immensely physically in his time at PSU, having added 40 pounds of pure muscle. He had 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in the Blue-White game.
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The LB and secondary are places of strength for Penn State. Nyeem Hartman-White started in 2014 and suffered a season ending injury in the opener last year, but he is returning at LB and Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda will also return on the line. In the secondary, Grant Haley is the CB and FS Marcus Allen returns, with John Reid at CB and Malik Golden at SS. Golden is the lone senior.
Joey Julis and Tyler Davis split kicking duties last year and combined to knock down 18 of 20 FGA, but Julius missed four extra points and had issues with kickoffs. Daniel Pasquariello is the punter and he averaged 39.9 yards per punt last season, as PSU finished No. 12 in the Big Ten in net punting. Alex Barbir and Blake Gillikin are contending for both jobs.
Penn State opens the season Sept. 3 hosting Kent State and travels to face Pittsburgh in Week 2. It opens conference play Week Week 4 on the road at Michigan. PSU will host Ohio State Oct. 22, Iowa Nov. 5, and Michigan State on Nov. 26 to close the season.
Penn State has some talent at the skill positions of its offense, but it needs a lot better protection from its OL. Last season, Penn State averaged just 23.2 points and 348.6 total yards per game, ranking No. 101 and No. 105 in the nation.
Those figures were just enough for a middling season given the strength of its defense, but PSU also has to force more turnovers after finishing just +4 and only having a +1.4 point differential on top of it. .500 ball.
Prediction: 7 wins
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