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In Their Own Words: Penn State

Things have not gone according to plan for the Nittany Lions.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Penn State
They are. Penn State.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

With seven extra weeks to prepare for the 2020 football season than originally planned, we collaborated with each of the Big Ten sites across SB Nation’s platform to get some in depth analysis on what to expect for the upcoming season. As each game approaches, we’ll share those insights from the weekly opponent in their own team site’s words.

After a miserable start to the season, the Hawkeyes have started to get things back on track in a big way with blowout wins over Michigan State and Minnesota in each of the last two weeks. Now, the Hawkeyes are set to face off with a Penn State that looks nothing like we expected before the season began and comes in at 0-4 for just the second time in program history.

While much of this is now changing due to the poor start, here’s a look back at what was expected out of the Nittany Lions this season, in their own words.


Editor’s Note: Reminder that these were submitted before the season and obviously without the insight we gain with each passing week.

Key Departures

  • KJ Hamler, WR
  • Yetur Gross-Matos, DE
  • Micah Parsons, LB
  • Ricky Rahne, OC

Key Returnees

  • Journey Brown, RB
  • Sean Clifford, QB
  • Shaka Toney, DE
  • Pat Freiermuth, TE

Instant Impact Freshmen or Transfers

  • KeAndre Lambert Smith, WR
  • Parker Washington, WR
  • Curtis Jacobs, LB
  • Lance Dixon, LB

2020 Team Overview

Penn State returns its starting quarterback, 4 of 5 offensive lineman (with the new starter with extensive playing time under his belt), a stable of talented backs led by Journey Brown...and only one wide receiver with any practical experience. It will be crucial for at least two young wideouts to emerge early in the season and for Sean Clifford to quickly build a rapport with them as KJ Hamler is no longer around to bail out the offense like he did so often the last two seasons.

The strength of the defense will be the linebackers, even with the departure of Micah Parsons. The defensive line returns plenty of talent and should be deeper than in recent years, but will need to get after the quarterback with more consistency throughout the season. The secondary was exposed toward the end of the season and could again be a liability against opponents with a quality quarterback.

Biggest Strength

A stable of talented running backs guided by a veteran offensive line

Biggest Weakness

A lack of experience at wide receiver.

Fanbase View of Coaching Staff

The fanbase is largely happy with what James Franklin has done in Happy Valley, especially getting the program consistently in the top 10 and winning a Big Ten championship well ahead of schedule. The biggest questions are if he can ever get past Ohio State on a regular basis (tall order) and if those disturbing fourth quarter collapses in big games is behind him. With that being said, there is a vocal minority who think that the he should be fired, every player cut, and the stadium torn down every time they lose a game - or heck, don’t win by 40+ points.

2020 Team MVP

I’ll go with tight end Pat Freiermuth, who has an excellent shot at being a first-team All-American and winner of the Mackey Award. He will play an even more essential role as Penn State works to break in several inexperienced wide receivers.

Season Prediction

7-1, win them all but Ohio State. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if they lose at Indiana, where they always seem to be stuck in slow motion, or drop one against Iowa or Michigan, who they play in back-to-back weeks.

What else should we know about your team this year?

Penn State is set up for success more so than the last two seasons, but it will be a moot point if they cannot get past Ohio State for the first time since 2016.


There is perhaps no bigger disappointment at the midway point of the Big Ten season than the Penn State Nittany Lions and reading back through the preseason expectations is a quick reminder of why. This was a team that had high hopes of contending in the East and beyond.

Now entering week 5, Penn State is 0-4 (and it bears repeating that this is just the second time in program history they’ve started the year with four straight losses) with matchups against Iowa and Michigan looming. While Michigan is also on the struggle bus this season, each of those games were noted as potential stumbling blocks in what was expected to be a very solid season for PSU.

That’s especially troubling if you look back at the noted returners who were expected to carry this team. Running back Journey Brown was expected to be a workhorse, but instead has been held out of the season. Just last week we learned he will be retiring from football due to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Quarter Sean Clifford, who was expected to be the leader of this offense, was benched a week ago after throwing six interceptions through three and a half games this year.

Things are not going well in Happy Valley. Given our newfound hindsight, it’s unlikely Penn State fans are confident in the direction of this season or the next two weeks.