NCAA Previews

#9 Penn State Nittany Lions Preview

Big Losses on Defense May Affect Lions in 2018

The Penn State Nittany Lions have posted two-straight 11-win seasons. But our 2018 Penn State Nittany Lions college football preview sees that this team, due to losses on defense especially, could have a difficult time securing 11 victories a third season in a row. Still, head coach James Franklin (36-17 Penn State, 60-32 Overall, 4-3 Bowls) has had winning seasons in each of his four years with the Nittany Lions. We certainly don’t see that changing in 2018. The Lions will, once again, be a strong contender in the Big Ten East and will put up a winning mark by the end of the season.


In 2017, Penn State generated a lot of offense. They averaged 41.4 PPG (2nd Big Ten, 7th Nationally). Their pass attack was exceptionally strong, as they averaged 211.5 YPG (1st Big Ten, 23rd Nationally) in the air. Their 460.3 YPP of overall offense was second in the conference and 19th in the nation. So much of that output depends on senior QB Trace McSorely (66.5 COMP%, 28 TDs, 10 INTs). He threw for 3,570 yards last season and rushed for another 491 yards and 11 ground TDs. Although three of the team’s top five receivers are gone, they do see senior deep threat DeAndre Thompkins (28 REC, 15.8 YPC, 3 TDs). Also back, as the leading returning pass catcher, is junior wideout Juwan Johnson (54 REC, 13.1 YPC, 1 TD). This receiving group must make up for 21 TDs scored by three former receivers.

The coaching staff is optimistic about the O-line, which comes back healthy and experienced. If they can play to their potential, they’ll certainly be a big asset when it comes to the rush attack. Sequon Barkley and his 1,271 yards, 5.9 average, and 18 TDs is also gone. Junior Miles Sanders (31 ATT, 191 YDs, 6.2 YPA, 2 TDs), gets the call to start. Senior Mark Allen, a small but explosive and powerful back, may be given some prime opportunities this season.


The Nittany Lion defense allowed opponents on average just 16.5 PPG (2nd Big Ten, 6th Nationally). The team loses its top five tacklers, and with that in mind, our 2018 Penn State Nittany Lions college football preview anticipates a drop-off on this side of the ball. The line will be the best part of this defense. Junior DE Shareef Miller (37 TKLs, 5 SCKs, 6 TFL, 9 QBHs) will be the anchor in front. Junior DT Kevin Givens (23 TKLs, 3.5 SCKs, 0.5) and sophomore DE Shaka Toney (20 TKLs, 4 SCKs, 2.5 TFL) showed a lot of potential last season.

Senior WLB Koa Farmer (48 TKLs, 1 SCK, 4.5 TFL) will be the stabilizing force for the linebacking unit. The top three performers from this group are gone. The Penn State secondary sees senior corner Amani Oruwariye (28 TKLs, 8 PBU, 4 INTs) return as the leader and lynchpin for this squad. This unit lacks depth and overall experience.

Special Teams

PK Tyler Davis will be replaced. He struggled on field goals last season. There are some promising freshman in line for the job. We think Jake Pinegar, who was First-Team All-District in high school and who hit two from 60 yards, will win the job. Junior punter Blake Gillikin (52 Punts, 43.2 YPP, 26 w/in20) has a strong leg and solid skills. Thompkins is a threat to break it all the way on punts. He took one back for a score last season and had 13.3 YPP, which is a great average. Barley, who ran two kicks back for scores, has to be replaced.

2018 Penn State Nittany Lions College Football Preview: Final Word

The Lions biggest game early in the season will be in Pittsburgh when they play the rival Panthers (Sep 8). Then, late in the month, they are at home against Ohio State (Sep 29). We see this as a huge test for both teams, and our 2018 Penn State Nittany Lions college football preview does not anticipate the home team generating an upset. After their bye-week, Michigan State (Oct 13) visits the Nittany Lions. Penn State lost to the Spartans in 2017. In November, the Lions play away at Michigan (Nov 3) and at home against Wisconsin (Nov 10). That’s one challenging schedule.

Top Three Takeaways

There will be a drop-off on defense
McSorely is the generator on offense
O-line needs to step up; can they?

2018 Penn State Nittany Lions College Football Preview Projection: 10-3 Record Overall/ 6-3 Big Ten; Finish: 3rd Big Ten East

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Paul has been writing about sports betting and sports for more than a decade, offering picks on the NFL, MLB, NHL, and NBA, as well as on college sports and European football. He's written thousands of season and post-season previews, innumerable articles on sports betting strategies, and various books on sports and sports betting.

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