5 bold predictions for Penn State in 2021
The strongest mouthwash on the market can’t rinse the taste of last year’s season out of Penn State’s mouth. The Nittany Lions began with a program-worst 0-5 start and finished the 2020 campaign under .500.
Only one thing cures that kind of disappointment: winning football games.
Penn State was able to generate some momentum at the end of last season, winning the final 4 games to salvage something from an otherwise-disastrous year. That finish seemed to generate some confidence entering the offseason.
James Franklin has not backed down from high expectations, saying he wants to return to Indianapolis and win a B1G title — and quickly. Will that be the case for the Nittany Lions in 2021?
Here are 5 bold predictions for Penn State for the upcoming season:
1. Sean Clifford benefits majorly from the addition of Mike Yurcich
Whether it’s been at Oklahoma State, Ohio State or Texas, Yurcich has done an excellent job of improving quarterback play and making offenses click. That’s exactly the spark that Clifford and Penn State need in order to climb back to the top of the B1G.
This might be termed as a little ambiguous for a “bold prediction,” but I think Yurcich’s arrival will result in Clifford holding down the starting job and making significant strides as a passer. After his turnover woes a year ago, the 3rd-year starter needs to settle down and get into rhythm with his playmakers in order to get things rolling offensively. I expect to see that happen for Clifford and the Nittany Lions.
2. Multiple running backs hit the NCAA transfer portal
Noah Cain. Devyn Ford. Keyvone Lee. John Lovett. Caziah Holmes. Yeah, that’s a really skilled and incredibly talented running back room Franklin has assembled. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine it’s going to stay intact for the duration of the season. There just aren’t enough carries to go around.
Penn State won’t have a mass exodus at the position, but I do expect two guys from that room to start looking at other opportunities at some point in the season. While that isn’t exactly bright news, the great part is that all 5 of those backs mentioned are incredibly talented. Regardless of what happens, the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack should be in really good shape in 2021.
3. Penn State’s defense is in the Top 3 of the B1G in interceptions
For as solid as the defense has been in Franklin’s first 7 seasons, the Nittany Lions have finished in the Top 3 in the B1G in interceptions just once — 2014. Penn State was particularly bad in this area a year ago, picking off just 4 passes in a 9-game season. The very definition of abysmal (OK, maybe not).
The secondary in State College is as good as it’s ever been under Brent Pry heading into this season. Having Jaquan Brisker and Tariq Castro-Fields back was huge for the defensive backfield. Joey Porter Jr. is a reliable cornerback, freshman Kalen King has been a bright spot in fall camp and South Carolina transfer Johnny Dixon provides great depth. Plus, Franklin said the defense is playing as aggressive as it ever has during his time at Penn State.
Translation: there’s a heavy emphasis on creating more turnovers.
4. Jahan Dotson ends the year as the B1G’s leading receiver
A lot of talented players in the B1G are going to be in this conversation. Chris Olave (Ohio State), Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), David Bell (Purdue), Ty Fryfogle (Indiana) and Chris Autman-Bell (Minnesota) are all incredibly talented receivers. Dotson might not be the best of this group, but he might be the guy featured the most of the group.
Penn State has an excellent one-two punch at receiver with Dotson and Parker Washington, but beyond that, the room is really unproven. That likely means Dotson will be seeing a lot of targets this fall. Because of his unique athleticism, Yurcich will look to get him the ball in a number of ways, too. Last year, Dotson caught 52 passes for 884 yards and 8 touchdowns and posted the 3rd-best average in the conference. He’ll be at the top of the chart this time.
5. A return to the double-digit win total
Looking at this team from top to bottom, Penn State might be the second-most talented team in the B1G. It has a loaded running back room, a go-to receiver, a strong offensive line and is really solid in all three levels of the defense. The big question is Clifford’s play at quarterback, which I expect to see take a big step forward.
All that equates to Franklin’s team hitting the 10-win mark for a 4th time in 6 seasons. Maybe it happens in the regular season or maybe Penn State needs a postseason victory to get to double digits in the win column. Either way, this is a talented team that will challenge Ohio State in the B1G East again.