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Preseason Spotlights from Behind Enemy Lines: Penn State Nittany Lions

Many expect Penn State to be the biggest threat to OSU in the conference.

Penn State v Michigan State Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Maize n Brew teamed up with the Big Ten team sites here at SB Nation for a preview of each of the football programs in the conference to help us look ahead to the 2020 season. Today’s comes in the form of a look at the Penn State Nittany Lions, who travel to Ann Arbor to take on the Michigan Wolverines in Week 6 on Nov. 28.

Representing our friends over at Black Shoe Diaries is Jared Slanina, who was kind enough to chime in on Penn State ahead of the new campaign.

Overview of the 2020 Nittany Lions

“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 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.”

Penn State’s key departures

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

Penn State’s key returnees

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

Freshmen or transfers that could make an instant impact

WR KeAndre Lambert Smith, WR Parker Washington, LB Curtis Jacobs

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

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

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

“A lack of experience at wide receiver.”

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his 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-plus points.”

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

“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.”

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss

“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.”

Thanks to Black Shoe Diaries for helping us preview the team ahead of the season. We’ll have more from each team on Michigan’s schedule and the other teams in the Big Ten in the coming days leading up to the 2020 campaign.