Penn State has moved the needle well to the plus side of the transfer portal gauge, and you’d have to give Will Levis more love than 10 alleged NFL Draft gurus to make a case in the other direction.

Most Penn State fans buying into Levis as a 2023 first-round pick are doing so only to have a club with which to beat James Franklin for supposedly picking the wrong quarterback 2 years ago.

It’s going to take some doing for Levis to parlay 2 years at Kentucky into NFL riches, and even if he does, that won’t tip the scale to the naysayers’ side on any PSU portal debate. Anyone wanting to win such an argument from the negative side would have had to show up 2 years ago.

In the portal’s first 2 years, 2019-20, Franklin and his staff lost 30+ players, including 2 former 5-star recruits, and brought back only a punter. Given that the punter was Jordan Stout, the Lions may have even gotten the better of that deal.

But now, 2 years later, it’s no contest.

Most of the players exiting State College recently have moved to MAC programs or equivalent/lesser schools. Any decent-hearted Penn State fan is rooting for the likes of receivers Cam Sullivan-Brown (UMass) and Daniel George (Akron), both off to solid starts in their first seasons at new schools. No need to fret when the Lions have brought in Mitchell Tinsley.

It already seems beyond argument that Penn State has hit home runs bringing in Tinsley (Western Kentucky), sophomore DE Chop Robinson (Maryland) and OL Hunter Nourzad (Cornell) this year. And the program struck gold last year with DE Arnold Ebiketie (Temple), DB Johnny Dixon (South Carolina) and — though we didn’t know it then — punter Barney Amor (Colgate). The later 2 are producing huge results so far this year.

What have the Lions lost?

Tracking the 2022 exodus

The Lions had 3 players bolt for other Power 5 programs:

Noah Cain (LSU): He’s third on the Tigers (2-2, unranked) in rushing, averaging 7 carries for 42 yards and a TD per game. The 6 yards per carry and 4 TDs in as many games are nice, but he’s not getting much run. Would any Penn State fan want him taking carries from Nick Singleton or Kaytron Allen? No. Cain and both programs benefit from his change of address.

Des Holmes (Arizona State): Holmes starts at right guard for the Sun Devils (1-3), who have the second worst offense in the Pac-12. If Holmes couldn’t crack the lineup on last year’s Lions o-line …

Cole Brevard (Purdue):  A backup nose tackle, Brevard has 2 tackles for the Boilermakers.

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The Lions had a couple other notable names hit the road to find playing time at smaller programs:

Cam Sullivan-Brown (UMass): He leads the Minutemen with 10 catches for 109 yards and the team’s only receiving touchdown.

Daniel George (Akron): With 21 catches for 231 yards, he’s the Zips’ No. 2 receiver.

Anthony Whigan (Akron): The former junior college player, who made 2 start last year for Penn State before falling out of favor, starts at RG for the Zips.

Ta’Quan Roberson (UConn): No one needed a fresh start more than last year’s backup QB at Penn State. Unfortunately, Roberson was injured in his opening start for the Huskies.

Tracking the 2021 exodus

Levis and 4 others skipped town for other Power 5 destinations:

Will Levis (Kentucky): If the former 3-star recruit had thrown 17 interceptions over his past 17 starts at Penn State rather than Kentucky, fans would be howling to get Drew Allar or even Sean Clifford in there pronto. A big, thick guy with a strong arm, Levis has the measurables to attract NFL scouts’ attention. He also has the Wildcats at 4-0 and No. 7 in the AP poll, a couple of measurables that won’t survive the SEC grind. Whatever his future might hold, right now he’s the 5th-best quarterback in the SEC, at best. Levis or Clifford as Allar’s place-holder at Penn State? It’s a wash. I’ll take the guy averaging only half an interception per game.

Lance Dixon (West Virginia): The linebacker is 5th on the Mountaineers with 14 tackles after making 36 stops a year ago. With the emergence of freakish freshman Abdul Carter, Penn State has enough depth at linebacker.

Micah Bowens (Oklahoma): He’s probably the 5th-string quarterback for the Sooners, definitely no higher. If he were still at Penn State, he’d be thinking about transferring.

Antonio Valentino (Florida): The defensive lineman had 23 tackles and 1 sack in 2021 for the Gators.

Trent Gordon (Arkansas): The cornerback had 2 tackles in 8 games in 2021, and hasn’t registered a stat this year for the Razorbacks. Like a bunch of other Penn State DBs who have transferred, he had a tough path to playing time with the Lions.

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Here are 2 other notable transfers from 2021:

Zack Kuntz (Old Dominion): The tight end followed former PSU offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne to Norfolk, Va., and has starred for the Monarchs from Day 1. Last year he had a team-high 73 catches for 692 yards and 5 TDs. He’s at 11-141-2 so far this season. Penn State’s tight end room, led by Brenton Strange, is crowded, so Kuntz made the right move for himself.

Shane Simmons (Marshall): The defensive lineman had 30 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year for the Thundering Herd. He might have been a nice complement to Ebiketie had he stayed at PSU, as he did have 3 sacks in 6 games for the Lions in 2020.

Tracking the 2019-20 exodus

We’ll hit just the major highlights here.

Justin Shorter (Florida): Yes, the 2018 5-star recruit is still in college! He leads the Gators with 13 catches for 239 yards in his 3rd year in Gainesville. He was the team’s No. 2 receiver last year. Whatever happened at Penn State, it was odd that player and program soured on each other so quickly. It’s hard to lose the No. 1 receiving prospect and No. 8 overall recruit, but Shorter decided he needed a change before the 2019 season was even done. Jahan Dotson made sure the loss didn’t sting as much as it could have. Unlike first-rounder Dotson, Shorter is expected to go late in the 2023 NFL Draft, if at all.

Ricky Slade (Old Dominion): Like Shorter, Slade was a 5-star recruit in 2018 who left the Lions in 2020. The running back never played for Rahne or for anyone ever again in college. He played in 21 games and rushed for 471 yards in 2 seasons with the Lions, then vanished. It’s a mystery. Obvious, Penn State could have used him after losing both Journey Brown and Cain at the beginning of the 2020 season.

Tommy Stevens (Mississippi State): Stevens did okay but fell well short of the Heisman hype after following former PSU offensive guru Joe Moorhead to Starkville. He split time with Garrett Schrader in his 1 season (2019) with the Bulldogs. He had cups of coffee as a quarterback and tight end in the NFL, and then signed with Calgary of the CFL this year.

Juwan Johnson (Oregon): He was the Ducks’ second leading receiver in 2019 with a 30-467-4 line. He is a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, having joined them in 2020 as an undrafted free agent. He has 23 NFL catches, including 6 through 3 games this year.

Manny Bowen (Utah): Bowen was a key member of the LB rotation at Penn State 2015-17, but missed time with off-field issues. He transferred in 2019, but decided to quit football before ever playing for the Utes.

Mac Hippenhammer (Miami, Ohio): Another defector to the MAC, the wide receiver leads the RedHawks in receiving this year after a very productive 2021.

Some final thoughts

Some players have personal issues and/or personality conflicts with coaches. And now that there’s a free pass to possibly greener pastures, some will travel. Others just want to play, and move to find a level and a situation where they can be comfortable.

There will continue to be strange, unexplained stories like AJ Lytton, a defensive back who left Florida State for Penn State in 2021, made 1 tackle as a Lion, then went back to the portal. As of now, he’s not on a roster.

If Levis does become an NFL mainstay, he’ll top the list of ones that got away from Franklin and Penn State.

But Ebiketie and Stout already have the scale tipped in the 9th-year coach’s favor. And it’ll further tilt that way as the years go on.

Like other power programs, Penn State wins both ways in the portal — bringing in key players to fill gaps and shedding roster-clogging flameouts. It’s wonderful when those who leave find happiness and success in the MAC or elsewhere. It’ll even be wonderful if Levis becomes the next Ben Roethlisberger.

Penn State remains a strong draw for high school and transfer talent, as this season is revealing like never before. That’s not about to change. The Lions are in good shape.