Christmas wish list for Penn State football
With Christmas around the corner and Penn State home for the holidays, fans have their sights set on a better 2021 and a return to prominence. The top thing on every fans’ list is to finally make the College Football Playoff.
While the Lions may not be at that stage yet, these are the 10 things Penn State should have on its Christmas wish list to help return the program to glory. Be sure to leave some grilled stickies and Creamery ice cream out for Santa.
1. A transfer QB
A 3rd year with Sean Clifford as the starter isn’t the end of the world, but his ceiling as a passer became quite apparent this season. The lack of throws called for Will Levis would seem to indicate that the coaching staff doesn’t have much confidence in the sophomore to be more than a short-yardage battering ram, so the best option may be to search in the ever-growing transfer portal, which is pretty rich with QBs who will be immediately eligible to play in 2021.
Some of the top quarterbacks still looking for new homes include the former Oklahoma player Tanner Mordecai, who spent 2 seasons at Spencer Rattler’s backup and was the No. 249 overall prospect and No. 11 dual-threat QB in the Class of 2018. He would have multiple seasons of eligibility remaining. There’s also more proven veterans who may not be much better than Clifford, but given a new home could flourish. Tennessee’s Jarrett Guarantano, Duke’s Chase Brice and Virginia Tech’s Hendon Hooker are all guys potentially worth taking a flyer on.
2. Coordinator continuity
Outside of Brent Pry, it seems like every year Penn State is introducing a least a couple of new coaches, most notably changing offensive coordinators 3 times in the last 4 seasons. Pry and Kirk Ciarrocca didn’t have the type of years many expected, but hey, 2020.
Pry has more than enough credibility established at Penn State and 10 years of history with James Franklin that his return in a no-brainer. Ciarrocca was the No. 1 OC hire in the country last year, and the last thing Penn State needs to do is install a different offense in another offseason with scheduling uncertainty.
3. Christmas with all the Franklins
It’s been over 9 months since Franklin was in the same room as his wife, Fumi, and daughters, Addison and Shola. Franklin said after the Illinois game that he would begin his required 5-day quarantine before joining his family in the South just in time for Christmas. It’s been a long year for everyone, but particularly for Franklin trying to salvage some sort of season after an 0-5 start while being away from loved ones. With Penn State not resuming in-person classes until at least mid-February, there’s zero rush for Franklin to return to State College.
4. Close the borders in the Class of ’22
It’s been hashed and rehashed that Penn State did a terrible job of recruiting its own turf in the Class of 2021. That’s all but history at this point, and the Lions need to make sure it’s an anomaly. Penn State is already off to a great start, securing commitments from 4 of the top 12 players in Pennsylvania for the Class of ’22. Even better, 7 of the remaining 8 players in that tier still remain uncommitted.
5. Another WR
Lather, rinse, repeat. Penn State was in need of a breakout receiver this year, and Jahan Dotson more than delivered. Unfortunately he was too good, and in all likelihood will be playing for an NFL franchise in 2021. That leaves Parker Washington as the No. 1 and fellow freshman KeAndre Lambert-Smith as the No. 2. Class of ’21 addition Lonnie White Jr. has the potential to be the next guy, but there’s no guarantee that he sticks around after the MLB draft this summer.
As with the QB position, there’s some interesting names in the transfer portal like Texas A&M’s Dylan Wright or Mississippi State’s Tyrell Shavers, but using the transfer portal for a receiver probably isn’t as high on the priority list for Franklin as finding a defensive back or defensive lineman.
6. A healthy Noah Cain
It’s easy to forget that Cain still has at least 2 years of eligibility remaining given that he was lost for the year on Penn State’s very first offensive series. Cain may very well be the most talented back on Penn State’s roster, but he’s going to have to fight for his job back after the solid year freshman Keyvone Lee put in. It’s a good problem to have for Penn State, having too many stud running backs, and it’s a dilemma they’re used to dealing with.
Devyn Ford and/or Caziah Holmes could always test the transfer market, but Penn State seems pretty established at the running back position through the 2022 season. The Lions added John Lovett from Baylor on Monday as well. Lovett led the Bears in rushing for 3 seasons before only having 130 yards on 45 carries this season.
7. Spring ball
As with the past 9 months, there remains no clarity on what the spring will look like for Penn State football. In-class instruction won’t begin until at least Feb. 15. The football players have returned to their respective homes for the holidays, and just when and how they’ll be able to return to normal team activities remains unclear. Despite the distribution of vaccines, the Blue-White game will likely be canceled for another year, which is a bummer for fans, but not much of a loss from a development perspective. Penn State had trouble this past winter remotely implementing workout plans for its players, something that perhaps showed early in the season, so obviously the quicker players and early enrollees can get to campus, the better.
8. Rasheed Walker returns
With Pat Freiermuth already declaring for the NFL and Jayson Oweh and Dotson likely to as well, that leaves left tackle Rasheed Walker as the biggest remaining name on Penn State’s roster with a decision to make about returning for a 4th year or turning pro. If Walker leaves, Penn State will be tasked with replacing 3 starters on the offensive line in Walker, Will Fries and Michal Menet. The Lions have some solid players with experience in C.J. Thorpe, Juice Scruggs and Des Holmes who will all be back, but having Walker return at left tackle would be huge.
9. Dangerous kick returners
For 8 games it was a fair-catch fest in Happy Valley. It was so nice finally seeing Lamont Wade and Jahan Dotson make exciting plays in the return game against Illinois, a la Saquon Barkley and K.J. Hamler, but both guys will be gone next season. It’s not an essential item on the Christmas list, but it sure would be a great little bow to add an imminent threat on special teams.
10. 110,000 fans
This year’s Whiteout:
— Richard Scarcella (@nittanyrich) December 19, 2020
Need I say more?
Our view from the booth last night as both teams take the field. pic.twitter.com/Q83nQQ8GtP
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) October 22, 2017