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Jim Fuller’s Top 25 Teams To Watch: No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions

Allar Gets His Chance To Be the Penn State Quarterback

Whether it is fair, the Penn State football team’s success rate is determined by how the Nittany Lions fare against Big Ten East Division rivals Michigan and Ohio State. They haven’t beaten those teams in the same season since 2008 and that factors in the NCAA football predictions for the Nittany Lions on an annual basis.

Penn State has lost six straight games to Ohio State but split the last six meetings with Michigan. Is this the year when Penn State proved it is on equal footing with the teams coming off appearances in the College Football Playoff field?

Jim Fuller's Top 25 Teams To Watch: No. 6 Penn State Nittany Lions
Drew Allar #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions against the Penn State Nittany Lions against the Ohio Bobcats/Scott Taetsch/Getty Images/AFP

Penn State has proven contributors on both sides of the ball and that could help them get over the hump. The Nittany Lions come in at No. 6 in our ranking of the Top 25 teams heading into the 2023 season.

The Nittany Lions had a top-15 rated recruiting class led by offensive linemen J’ven Williams and Alex Birchmeier, defensive backs King Mack and DaKaari Nelson, and linebacker Tony Rojas.

Penn State’s class of incoming transfers was ranked 10th in the Big Ten out of 14 teams.

Kent State receiver Dante Cephas, Minnesota running back Trey Potts, Florida State receiver Malik McClain, Mississippi State cornerback Audavion Collins, and Old Dominion defensive lineman Alonso Ford are the top-rated incoming transfers.

Cornerback Marquis Wilson (Purdue), running back Keyvone Lee (Mississippi State), and receiver Jaden Dottin are among the top outgoing transfers.

According to college football odds, Penn State (+2000) is 10th in the odds to win the national title. The Nittany Lions are ranked seventh in both the Associated Press and coaches’ polls, trailing division rivals Michigan and Ohio State. Penn State received two of the 37 first-place votes and was selected to finish third in the Big Ten East Division in Big Ten’s preseason balloting.

Penn State Nittany Lions

  • 2022 record: 11-2
  • 2022 Big Ten record: 7-2
  • Head coach: James Franklin
  • Odds to win conference title: +150

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With Sean Clifford off to the NFL, Drew Allar is ready to take over at quarterback. He got some work late in games a season ago as he had a pair of touchdown passes in wins over Ohio and Indiana. Allar (+2500) comes in tied for 13th in the Heisman Trophy odds per the sportsbook.

Leading receiver Parker Washington passed on his final two seasons of eligibility and is in camp with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. Mitchell Tinsley, who led the Nittany Lions with 51 catches in 2022, is also off to the NFL as is tight end Brenton Strange.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith displayed big-play ability as a sophomore as he averaged 16.2 yards per catch. Five freshmen receivers or tight ends caught passes last season so there are players around for the strong-armed Allar to throw the ball to. Keep an eye on a pair of transfers. Cephas caught 82 passes for 1,240 yards at Kent State in 2021. His numbers fell off a little bit last season, but he averaged more than 15 yards per reception in each of the last two seasons. Malik McClain had just 33 catches over the last two seasons at Florida State. However, the 6-foot-4 McClain could be a top red-zone target.

There are no such concerns at running back. Not only are Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen back after combining for nearly 2,000 rushing yards, 31 receptions, and 24 total touchdowns as freshman, but Trey Potts transferred in from Minnesota after rushing for 1,198 yards over the last four seasons.

Left tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu could easily have headed off to the NFL. His return is a huge boost for the offense and there are multiple other offensive linemen with starting experience so this could be one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten.

After back-to-back seasons of finishing in the top five in the Big Ten in total defense, Penn State slipped to seventh a season ago. The Nittany Lions were among the top teams in the Big Ten in red zone defense.

Abdul Carter had 10½ tackles and loss and 6½ sacks as a freshman and look for those numbers to improve. Curtis Jacobs is another returning linebacker to keep an eye on.

Leading tackler Ji’Ayir Brown and star cornerback Joey Porter Jr. were both taken on the second day of the NFL Draft. Cornerback Kalen King (3 interceptions, 21 pass breakups as a sophomore) could soon join them in the NFL. There are some options at the other three spots in the secondary as well with Collins having a chance to contribute after coming in from Mississippi State.

With PJ Mustipher now with the Denver Broncos, there are concerns about a lack of size in the middle of the defensive line. Adisa Isaac and Chop Robinson can get after the quarterback

Those who bet online might want to keep in mind that Penn State covered six of its last seven games a season ago when the Nittany Lions were listed as the favorite in each game except for the loss to Ohio State.

Nine of Penn State’s games finished over the college football betting line total and that included both of the losses.

Outlook

Obviously, plenty of eyes will be on Allar as Clifford not only put up some solid passing numbers, but he had three times as many touchdown passes as interceptions over the last two seasons. The running game could be pretty special so it won’t be all on Allar’s shoulders.

If the defensive line, which is a little undersized, is up to the challenge, this is a team worth keeping an eye on in the national title race. Giving up 85 points and 1115 yards in the losses to Michigan and Ohio State is a concern. The Nittany Lions will have to offer more resistance than that to make a move past the two national title hopefuls.

Playing West Virginia and Illinois in two of the first three games could be interesting. The college football spreads list the Nittany Lions as the 20½-point favorite against West Virginia.

The Oct. 21 game at Ohio State is certainly circled on the schedule considering that Penn State hasn’t won in Columbus since 2011. However, the last three games at Ohio State were decided by a total of 21 points.

Michigan comes to Beaver Stadium on Nov. 11 and the regular season finale in Detroit against Michigan State could be interesting.

Penn State is looking for back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since the 2016 and 2017 campaigns. Penn State is priced at -140 to go over 9½ regular-season wins and +110 to finish under that total.

2023 Schedule

  • Sept. 2 vs West Virginia
  • Sept. 9 vs Delaware
  • Sept. 16 at Illinois
  • Sept. 23 vs Iowa
  • Sept. 30 at Northwestern
  • Oct. 14 vs UMass
  • Oct. 21 at Ohio State
  • Oct. 28 vs Indiana
  • Nov. 4 at Maryland
  • Nov. 11 vs Michigan
  • Nov. 18 vs Rutgers
  • Nov. 25 vs Michigan State (at Detroit)

 

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