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Penn State

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And just like that, Penn State has moved back into the national spotlight after a great finish to last season. The Nittany Lions kind of came out of nowhere to finish with 11 wins and the Big Ten title, to go with one of the more exciting bowls, albeit in a 52-49 loss to USC in Pasadena. With a lot of those players back, head coach James Franklin is looking for a little more in his fourth season.

Quarterback Trace McSorley (57.9% completion, 29 TDs, 8 INTs) and running back Saquon Barkley (1,496 yards, 18 TDs) lead the conversation and may even be in talks for the Heisman if all goes well for them. But doing that will require some improvement, even though Barkley was plenty dominant a year ago. To help, the offensive line should return four starters as long as things work out health wise. McSorley’s top targets are gone, but DaeSean Hamilton (506 yards), DeAndre Thompkins (440 yards) and Juwan Johnson have plenty of talent at wide out. Once this group got rolling at the end of last season, no one could stop them and if that’s the case from the start, another Big Ten title isn’t a stretch.

Of course, the Nittany Lions have to be just as good on the defensive end, after getting carved for 52 points in the Rose Bowl. The biggest question is on the defensive line, but they have the players in waiting that can make a difference. The good news is that linebacker should be loaded starting with senior Jason Cabinda as well as the younger Cam Brown. As for the secondary, it will be important to get John Reid back, otherwise there could be some issues due to youth. The Lions have talent in freshmen like Lamont Wade and others, but they’ll need Reid at cornerback at some point.

After losing two of their first four games last year, they should get off to a better start in 2017 as long as they take care of business against Pittsburgh. However, their Big Ten slate gets started with a bang with trips to Iowa and Northwestern early. From there, it doesn’t slow down after their bye with a home game against Michigan followed by road tilts at Ohio State and Michigan State. If they can get past that, this team could be headed for another Big Ten Championship.

Of course, winning in Columbus is no easy task and that’s the main reason the Nittany Lions have the third-best odds (+370 at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the Big Ten behind both OSU and Michigan. Given the talent on offense, taking them at +2500 to win the National Championship isn’t crazy, but getting there will be incredibly difficult with all of the road games they’re faced with. As a reminder, Penn State’s best three road wins last season came at Purdue, Indiana and Rutgers, while it lost to Pitt and Michigan. Given this schedule, the Nittany Lions could have some issues no matter their talent.

2017 Penn State Nittany Lions Football Schedule

Sept. 2 vs. Akron
Sept. 9 vs. Pittsburgh
Sept. 16 vs. Georgia State
Sept. 23 at Iowa

Sept. 30 vs. Indiana
Oct. 7 at Northwestern
Oct. 21 vs. Michigan

Oct. 28 at Ohio State
Nov. 4 at Michigan State
Nov. 11 vs. Rutgers
Nov. 18 vs. Nebraska
Nov. 25 at Maryland

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