Penn State football took a step back last year and even with a favorable schedule, still only managed a 9-4 record (7-6 against the spread), losing to the best teams in the conference. It was the same case in the bowl, as the Nittany Lions didn’t have the defense to beat Kentucky.
With a new quarterback and plenty more incoming starters, they have an even bigger task in 2019, though they still have the third-best odds to win the Big Ten to go with an opening over/under of 8.5 wins at 5Dimes Sportsbook.
Life Without Trace McSorley
The biggest factor for PSU is the departure of quarterback Trace McSorley, who did everything for the offense with 30 total touchdowns (18 passing). Last year’s backup Sean Clifford takes his place and has a ton on his shoulders after attempting seven passes as a freshman (all five completions came in blowouts).
It doesn’t help that running back Miles Sanders is also gone, but Ricky Slade, Journey Brown and Noah Cain should be fine replacements.
The hope is that the line doesn’t take a step back with two starters gone to the NFL, but with three guys returning, there won’t be a massive drop off.
Receiver may be the most experienced position in the offense, though that’s not saying much with KJ Hamler (754 yards, 5 TDs) and tight end Pat Freiermuth (368 yards, 8 TDs) the top returnees.
The “D” Returns Plenty of Talent
The good news is that the defense should be just as good after allowing only 20 points per game and leading the nation in sacks. Some of that had to do with schedule as the Nittany Lions struggled against better opponents, but they return most of the talent in the front seven.
Yetur Gross-Matos (8 sacks) can be a force on the end, and also made the Athlon Sports Top 50 list of returning starters (#13 in nation). Robert Windsor is a force inside.
Linebacker may be the best unit on the defense with leading tackler Micah Parsons the name to know.
The secondary has a few questions, though returning corner John Reid and safety Garrett Taylor will keep them stout.
The Schedule Isn’t Cooperating (bet under 7.5)
It doesn’t help Penn State that its schedule will be a little more difficult with road games at Iowa and Minnesota highlighting its cross-division slate. Then you throw in trips to MSU and OSU, in addition to a home game against Michigan and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Nittany Lions finished with seven wins in the regular season.
The offense should be fine under Clifford, but he’s still an unknown at quarterback and they won’t be able to run as easily against a more difficult schedule.
The hope is that they start 5-0 ahead of the trip to Iowa, but that’s only a hope. Winning at Maryland isn’t a freebie, nor is the home game against Purdue. The Lions have had solid recruiting classes so they’ll have a lot of new, high-level starters, but a lack of experience could be an issue.
Unless the defense becomes one of the top two in the Big Ten, it’s hard to see them reaching nine wins in the regular season.
2019 Penn State Nittany Lions Football Schedule
Aug. 31 vs. Idaho
Sept. 7 vs. Buffalo
Sept. 14 vs. Pittsburgh
Sept. 27 at Maryland
Oct. 5 vs. Purdue
Oct. 12 at Iowa
Oct. 19 vs. Michigan
Oct. 26 at Michigan State
Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Nov. 16 vs. Indiana
Nov. 23 at Ohio State
Nov. 30 vs. Rutgers