Figure 1 The excitement is ramping up ahead of the new college football season
James Franklin led the Nittany Lions to a repeat of the 2017 and 2019 seasons last year, ending up with a very impressive 11-2 record. Add to that a Rose Bowl triumph over Utah and 2022 can be considered a great success for Penn State. That is especially true when you look at the two struggling years before that.
But how will the team do in 2023? Franklin is returning for his tenth year in charge and is only in the early part of that 10-year contract extension signed in 2021. It is obvious that the coach is here for the long term – but will the team follow him? All the betting apps have their own idea of how the college football season will go. But can the Nittany Lions upset the odds?
On the Cusp of Greatness
In 2021, Penn State had been predicted to finish second behind Ohio State in the East Division of the Big-10. It all looked very good after five unbeaten games. But then Sean Clifford was injured and the team slumped to an eventual 7-5 record. There were some concerns, but the team roared back last year.
Some big names left for the NFL in 2022 but Penn State dealt with everyone apart from Ohio State and Michigan – and gave Franklin his first Rose Bowl win. Now the Nittany Lions are being considered as a dark horse for the College Football Playoff and confidence is high in practice camp.
The biggest factor for Penn State this season is a new starting quarterback for the first time in years. Sean Clifford is now a Green Bay Packer and it will be former 5-star recruit Drew Allar that calls the shots. There is a certain degree of uncertainty here, but there is also good news for Lions fans.
Allar has already appeared in ten games as a freshman. Sure, he wasn’t the main guy last year – but that game time will count for a lot. He is a big, strong player that will need to take over in the huddle. We will learn a lot more about just how good he will be at the start of September against West Virginia.
While it is true that a lot will depend on how Allar steps up this year, we should be able to count on a strong season defensively. Losing Porter and Tiig is a blow for Frankin, but he did well to bring in players last year that will now be experienced enough to take some leadership roles.
Hakeem Beamon has reportedly gained some pounds in the offseason and will be an even bigger and more explosive threat at defensive tackle. Dani Dennis-Sutton should get more game time as well, with the departure of Tarburton. Penn State should be able to rely on Manny Diaz’s defense this year, that’s for sure.
Figure 2 Beaver Stadium will be ready to play its part once again
The Usual Suspects
It feels like there is a real sense of optimism at Penn State this year – and the media and pundits are feeding off of that to rate the Nittany Lions as an outside chance for the College Football Playoff. But there is the small problem of the conference and the teams they have to face.
Ohio State and Michigan will be the teams to beat once again. West Virginia, Iowa and Illinois will be tough match-ups too, but third in the east is the minimum target in 2023. That should be achievable as long as Allar develops – and the rest of the schedule features no other team ESPN’s top 30.
Pride of Pennsylvania
As with any other summer before football returns, there are questions about how good the Nittany Lions will be. But an experienced and well-established coach is a huge plus for this team, one that will be expected to push forward from last year’s effort and become a college powerhouse again.
Franklin has stated that he believes that he has the will of the people of Pennsylvania behind him. Pitt fans might take exception to that, but there is some truth in it. The whole region and state benefits from a winning Penn State Nittany Lions football team – and that is exactly what we should have in 2023.