Penn State is coming off a season that had so much promise. A seven-win season is nice but with four losses by four points or less, things could have turned out better.
Quarterback Sean Clifford and safety Ji’Ayir Brown give Penn State stars on both sides of the ball. There were a large number of outgoing transfers, although most of them had yet to earn key roles at Penn State.
Penn State had the second-highest rated group of incoming freshmen in the Big Ten according to the 247sports.com recruiting database. The sixth-rated recruiting class in the nation is led by defensive lineman Dani Dennis-Sutton and running back Nick Singleton. It will be worth watching to see how many of them play immediately as freshmen.
A concern for the Nittany Lions is an 0-8 record against ranked teams over the last two seasons.
Penn State (+1600) is fourth in the odds to win the Big Ten championship. Those odds have fallen from +1200 since late May according to the college football lines The Nittany Lions (+1000) are a distant third behind Ohio State and Michigan in the odds to win the Big Ten East Division title.
Penn State (+8000) is tied for 14th in the NCAA football odds to win the national championship according to the sportsbook.
Penn State Nittany Lions
- 2021 record: 7-6
- 2021 conference record: 4-5
- Head coach: James Franklin
- Odds to win conference title: +1600
The offense will be led by Clifford after he passed for 3,107 yards with 21 touchdown passes with 8 interceptions. He also finished third on the Nittany Lions with 99 rushing attempts. Clifford had seven TD passes and five interceptions in the six losses compared to 14 touchdowns and three interceptions in the team’s wins.
Replacing leading receiver Jahan Dotson, a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, will be difficult after Dotson had 1,182 yards on 91 receptions with 12 touchdowns.
Parker Washington could become the next great Penn State receiver after he had 820 yards on 64 catches as a sophomore. Washington had 13 catches for 200 yards in the games against Ohio State and Michigan so he knows how to perform on the biggest stage. Classmate KeAndre Lambert-Smith added 34 catches.
Tight ends Brenton Strange and Theo Johnson also return after combining for 39 catches and 438 receiving yards.
Leading rusher Keyvone Lee returns and he saw his role increase as the season wore on. In the last three games during the regular season, Lee ran for 208 yards on 48 carries. He could top last year’s marks of 108 attempts and 530 rushing yards, especially with the departure of Noah Cain, who also had more than 100 rushes in 2021.
Caziah Holmes ended the 2020 season with 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a win over Illinois. He had just five carries in the three games he appeared in a season ago.
Penn State brings back starting offensive linemen Bryce Effner, Juice Scruggs and Caeden Wallace.
Penn State didn’t bring in many transfers but former Western Kentucky receiver Mitchell Tinsley (87 catches, 1,402 receiving yards in 2021) and Cornell offensive lineman Hunter Nourzad could make immediate contributions.
Penn State had the second-ranked scoring defense in the Big Ten but will have to replace four of the top five tacklers from that unit.
Five Penn State players off the defense were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, the highest total since five defensive players out of Penn State were taken in the 1992 draft.
Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and safety Jaquan Brisker were second-round selections, linebacker and second-leading tackler Brandon Smith went in Round 4, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and linebacker Jesse Luketa were picked in the sixth and seventh rounds. Their departures won’t be easy to overcome.
Brown (74 tackles, six interceptions, five pass breakups), linebacker Curtis Jacobs (61 tackles, six tackles for loss), and cornerback Joey Porter (51 tackles, four pass breakups) are the top returning players on defense. Seven sophomores and 10 freshmen defensive players recorded tackles during the 2021 season so their continued development will be crucial. Getting 325-pound defensive tackle P.J. Mustipher, who was limited to six games in 2021, back for the full season will be a huge plus.
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— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) August 5, 2022
No returning Penn State player had more than three sacks so that is an area that will need to be addressed.
Penn State will need to replace Jordan Stout who averaged 46 yards per punt and was 16 of 23 on field goals. He also had 59 touchbacks on 65 kickoffs.
Devyn Ford should be the top kickoff returner once again but Dotson handled most of the punt return duties.
Defensive back Enzo Jennings and defensive lineman Cole Brevard are among the high-profile players to leave the program.
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Penn State isn’t exactly easing into the 2022 season. The season opener will be on the road against Big 10 rival Purdue. The Nittany Lions are currently listed as a 3½-point favorite. Just over two weeks later comes another road trip to face Auburn.
The bye week seems to be well placed as it comes before facing defending Big Ten champion Michigan and current conference favorite Ohio State in a span of 14 days. That will be followed by very winnable contests against Indiana, Maryland, and Rutgers.
Expectations are a little on the low side with -135 odds for the Nittany Lions to finish under 8½ wins during the regular season according to the college football odds.
Something for those who bet online, eight of the last nine Penn State games during the 2021 season finished under the total.
- Sept. 1 at Purdue
- Sept. 10 vs Ohio
- Sept. 17 at Auburn
- Sept. 24 vs Central Michigan
- Oct. 1 vs Northwestern
- Oct. 15 at Michigan
- Oct. 22 vs Minnesota
- Oct. 29 vs Ohio State
- Nov. 5 at Indiana
- Nov. 12 vs Maryland
- Nov. 19 at Rutgers
- Nov. 26 vs Michigan State