2018 Penn State Nittany Lions Season Win Total Picks and Predictions for NCAA Football
2017 Record: 11-2
2018 Las Vegas Season Win Total: 9.5
2018 Season Win Total Picks NCAA Football: 'Under'
James Franklin has the Penn State powerhouse humming along. But after losing a once-in-a-generation talent at running back and his top assistant, and with unprecedented talent in the Big Ten East, Franklin's program will be pushed the to max this year as they attempt to get back to the conference title game.
Saquon Barkley was an absolute hero for this team last year. He rushed for 1,393 yards and 18 touchdowns, caught 54 passes for 632 yards and three more touchdowns, and averaged 28.4 yards per kick return and added two more scores last year. For my money Barkley was the best offensive player in college football last year. But now he has taken his talents to the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has also moved on, taking the head coaching job at Mississippi State. Meaning it is up to Franklin and three-year starting quarterback Trace McSorely to pick up the slack. McSorely is a two-time all-Big Ten second team performer and a potential pro. And he will have four of his five starting offensive linemen back from last year while running a similar offense to what Moorhead guided.
But the Nittany Lions need to replace three of their top four (and four of their top six) receivers from last season. It's a young position group without a lot of depth.
There are also depth issues on defense, where Penn State has just three starters back from the nation's No. 7 scoring unit. The Lions were in the Top 20 in rushing and total defense last year. But they bid adieu to their top five tacklers and seven of their top eight defensive players.
Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, they have four weeks to whip the defense into shape and to find a successor to Barkley. Penn State has an easy schedule to open the year, sans a potentially tricky rivalry game at Pittsburgh. Pitt kind of stinks this year. But it is still a rivalry game and still on the road, so that could at least test the Nittany Lions a bit.
Penn State should be undefeated when Ohio State comes calling in Happy Valley on Sept. 29. Penn State blew a 15-point lead on the road in last year's game and will be playing with revenge. Also, Urban Meyer's uncertain status also tips the scales a bit in Penn State's favor for that marquee matchup.
The Nittany Lions also get Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin in Happy Valley this year. And I feel like if last year's team had this year's schedule then Penn State would've gone undefeated and ended up playing for a National Championship.
I expected that this number would come out at 10.0, and I would've jumped at the 'under'. But 9.5 means that Penn State has to lose three of their five toughest games, four of which are played at home. That's tough to predict for a team that has won 11 games each of the past two seasons. Especially with a veteran quarterback like McSorely at the helm.
But I can't overstate what a loss Barkley is. And Penn State had some statistical measures last season (like their turnover differential) that suggest a regression this season. I think the Nittany Lions go 2-3 against their toughest opponents, losing to Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin, and I can see them staying 'under'.
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