2019 Penn State Nittany Lions Football Predictions and Odds to Win National Championship
After several years of looking like a genius as his team seemed to be getting closer and closer to true national contention, James Franklin had an ugly year last year. He took a step back at a time when Michigan and Ohio State remain strong - both are likely to start the season ranked in the Top 5 nationally. And they lost their offensive core and had a whole lot of attrition - 11 transfers out of the program - and didn't quite recruit as well as the previous year. It is far from time to panic, but Franklin needs to show what he is made of and get things back on track in a hurry or it could be a rougher year than anyone around the program is hoping for.
2018 in a Nutshell
On the surface, a 9-4 record isn't terrible. But nor is it an elite record. And it looks worse the closer you inspect. They lost all three of the games that really mattered most on their schedule - to conference and division rivals Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. And several of their wins were a long way from impressive - Appalachian State, Pitt, Kent State, Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers and Maryland weren't exactly setting records and leaving behind bodies last year. The low point, though, may have come in the bowl game - the Citrus Bowl - when they got outplayed and outcoached by a Kentucky team that had no business being on the same field as them. The final score was only 27-24, but that was a very flattering result.
Key Additions and Departures
The biggest loss comes with the departure of Trace McSorley after three strong years starting for the program. He was a late-round pick of the Ravens and will be sorely missed. Also gone is running back Miles Sanders, the highest of the team's six draft picks after going 53rd, who played well in his lone year as a starter after Saquon Barkley left, and he leaves a big hole as well. All-Big Ten corner Amani Oruwariye will also be missed.
Other transfers and departures have created some headaches. Fifth-year senior Tommy Stevens was seemingly a lock to take over for McSorley after being his understudy all the way along, but he transferred after spring practice. That leaves sophomore Sean Clifford as the likely starter. And he won't have a lot of experienced help. The team will likely have a redshirt freshman protecting Clifford's blindside at left tackle. Only one receiver on the roster has more than 13 career catches, and Ricky Slade is the veteran running back on the squad with just 45 career carries. This offense will have some challenges early on - at least.
The recruiting class of 23 was solid despite being a step back from last year. The immediate issue, though, is that two of the top four guys, including Brandon Smith, the only consensus five-star in the group, are linebackers, and one is a defensive end - the two areas on defense where the team is the deepest and aren't likely to have playing time for youngsters early. It's a good problem to have, but it limits the impact of the class in the short term.
Biggest Area of Concern
It's definitely the offense. There have been a whole lot of changes, and they have taken serious steps back in experience. The talent is there for the most part, but it probably won't be ready for prime time out of the gate. That puts a ton of pressure on the defense. They were strong last year, except for when it came to the run, where they were particularly vulnerable. That is an area they will seriously need to address - and the offensive uncertainties put the pressure on them to address it quickly.
Penn State Nittany Lions Schedule Analysis
They play in the Big Ten East, so a tough schedule is a given. But this isn't too bad all things considered. The nonconference slate is a complete joke - Idaho, Buffalo and Pitt. Then they open at Maryland and against Purdue, so 5-0 is both realistic and necessary for the squad. They face a tough three-week stretch - at Iowa, at home against Michigan, then at Michigan State - that will go a long way towards defining their season. Then things let up with a trip to Minnesota and a home game against Indiana before a brutal trip to Columbus to face Ohio State. Rutgers is a sure win to close things out. Eight wins feels like a reasonable floor. It's what happens in those other four games that will be telling, and it needs to be much better than it was last year.
2019-20 Penn State Nittany Lions Betting Odds and Trends
BetOnline has Penn State in a group of teams at +6600 to win the national title, which puts them behind 16 other squads and alongside Wisconsin and Miami. Needless to say, oddsmakers don't see this as a true contender. At Bovada they are the third choice to win the Big Ten, but at +1150 they are far behind their two big rivals in the division.
2019-20 Penn State Nittany Lions Predictions and College Football Picks
The defense should be solid and could be better than last year. And it will need to be because this offense is going to be a serious work in progress. They are lucky that they get five relatively soft games before things get real, but the back half of the schedule is tough. I don't expect them to have a record any better than last season's. I'm not drinking the James Franklin kool-aid at this moment.
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