Penn State football: 5 things we have to see from Nittany Lions in Week 1
There is the league’s most experienced quarterback, five-star recruits all over the field and a confidence that this could be another year that ends with Penn State winning another Big Ten title. That’s also not unrealistic.
So when things crank up at home against Appalachian State (Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET; TV: Big Ten Network), expect this to be the start of something special. Or a major letdown. We’l have to let that play out.
Here are five things we really have to see from Penn State in Week 1:
1. Sanders picks up where Barkley left off
As sad as it is to see Saquon Barkley go, it’s just as exciting to finally get to see Miles Sanders get his shot to be the main running back at Penn State. “I can’t wait,” Sanders said recently. “I don’t like doing too much talking. That’s never been me. I’m just ready to show what I can do, show the Big Ten, show everybody.”
Sanders has all the tools and he’s waited patiently to be the man, mostly returning kicks and backing up Barkley for two years. Now he’s the primary ball carrier and it’s going to be interesting to see how much he dominates. Expect a bunch of 100-yard days and hope for no fumbles, which were an issue as a youngster.
2. Offensive line proves its greatness
James Franklin and his staff have done a great job of recruiting offensive linemen in the past few years and this is the year it all comes together. This might be one of the best offensive line groups in the country, and that’s a good feeling at Penn State considering many good seasons have drifted away because of troubles with that group.
There is great talent, but there is also plenty of depth and versatility. Guys can play multiple positions, and play them well, so there shouldn’t be reason for major concern if somone goes down with an injury. For all the skill-position talent on this team, watch this offensive line make them all better this year. That starts with dominating on Saturday.
3. Trace McSorley starts his Heisman candidacy
People keep saying Trace McSorley is the next Baker Mayfield, and if that’s true, then he’s going to be a Heisman Trophy candidate this year. That will start with a big passing day on Saturday.
McSorley already has played 34 games at Penn State, passing for 7,369 yards and 59 touchdowns. He can do it all, rushing for another 899 yards and 18 more touchdowns. Expect more of the same, and expect it in a big way against Appalachian State, which will have trouble hanging with all of Penn State’s weapons.
4. New safeties Scott, Taylor ease all concerns
After sending all four starters in the secondary off to the NFL, the Nittany Lions are in reload mode at the back. Oftentimes this would be a reason for concern, but Penn State has done this before and guys like Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor have been groomed for this. They’re ready.
Scott has been a special teams star and he’s a senior, so he’s been through it all. Even without much starting experience, he’ll be a leader on defense. Show all that early, please.
5. Late in a close game, someone has to make a big play
There’s this comment again, one that we’ve been kicking around with everyone in the Big Ten. Can Penn State win the Big Ten? Kirk Herbstreit thinks so. I certainly think it’s a possibility, too, though I’m on record as going out on a limb and taking Michigan because they get Penn State at home.
There’s going to be a lot of close games this year, though I’m not expecting that Saturday considering the Lions are a 24-point favorite. But what you want to see in Week 1 is big-time players making big-time plays. Scoring on practically every drive is expected, and anything less will be cause for concern down the road.