The Nittany Lions didn’t do many memorable things last season, but they still ended up with seven wins, despite closing the season with Four straight losses (including the bowl Game) against tougher competition. Their goal this year will be to compete against those tougher teams in the Big Ten East. Beating up on the weaker teams in the Conference is fun, but that can only get Penn State so far.
The biggest difference for this year’s team is on the offensive side with coordinator Joe Moorhead now in control and redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley likely taking the reins. After struggling behind a bad offensive line the last couple years, Moorhead implanted a no-huddle, uptempo spread offense that dominated the spring Game led by McSorley, who finished with Four touchdowns and 281 yards. While it wasn’t against the PSU first-team defense, those numbers are still promising.
Their offensive line should be better this year as well with Four starters returning and more depth in the group. They’ll lead the way for Saquon Barkley (1,076 yards, 7 TDs), who is arguably Penn State’s best player. Barkley is only a sophomore, but big things are ahead for the running back. The receivers are experienced as well with Chris Godwin (1,101 yards, 5 TDs) and DaeSean Hamilton (580 yards, 6 TDs) leading the way again. Christian Hackenberg is gone, but the offense is set to be better without him.
The defensive side lost more talent and that will be the question in the early going, especially with a new coordinator in charge in Brent Pry, who was promoted from within. The line loses a few guys with NFL talent, but Garrett Sickels should lead that group, as well as Kevin Givens, who has looked great in the spring. Linebacker should be one of Penn State’s better and experienced positions with Jason Cabinda, Brandon Bell and Nyeem Wartman-White (if healthy) all in tow. The secondary also has a couple studs returning with cornerback Grant Haley and safety Marcus Allen.
As long as the line comes around, the defense should be close to last year’s levels, although the up-tempo offense may force the defense to be on the field more often. Either way, not much drop off is expected for the Nittany Lions even with multiple players gone to the NFL.
Their biggest question in non-Conference play will come at Pittsburgh in the second weekend, where they’ll have their first test for the new-look offense. Even a home Game against Temple won’t be easy after the Owls won this matchup last season. Penn State’s Big Ten slate is fairly manageable, but opening with a road test at the Big House probably won’t be too kind. Either way, their other three road Conference Games are all winnable and should help them have a chance to reach more than seven wins this season. But to do so, that would require a home upset of Ohio State, Iowa or Michigan State.
Getting more wins will likely depend on what the offense can do against better teams. If McSorley wins the job, will he be ready to lead this offense against the better defenses in the Big Ten?
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2016 Penn State Nittany Lions Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Kent State
Sept 10 at Pittsburgh
Sept. 17 vs. Temple
Sept. 24 at Michigan
Oct. 1 vs. Minnesota
Oct. 8 vs. Maryland
Oct. 22 vs. Ohio State
Oct. 29 at Purdue
Nov. 5 vs. Iowa
Nov. 12 at Indiana
Nov. 19 at Rutgers
Nov. 26 vs. Michigan State