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Penn State 2018: Players to Watch

Trace McSorley and a pair of freshmen could lead the Nittany Lions back to the Rose Bowl.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Penn State v Washington Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Praise the football gods Saquon Barkley is gone. Unfortunately, Trace McSorley has returned for what feels like his 10th season of eligibility and will certainly be in the Heisman Trophy conversation this fall.

The Nittany Lions lose key players on both sides of the ball and will lean on contributions from their top five recruiting class to help mitigate the impact of the departures. Penn State’s difficult, but favorable, home schedule sees Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin all travel to Happy Valley. But on Nov. 3, Penn State travels to Ann Arbor.

At the worst, Penn State enters this game 6-2. It’ll be a tough one, but here’s who to watch in November.

QB — Trace McSorley

Shocker, I know.

I have gone on record and called him “overrated...careless” and I’m sure a slew of other less than endearing terms. However, after that ass kicking he unleashed against Michigan and CLUTCH throw against Iowa, I must eat copious amounts of crow.

McSorley is a gunslinger through and through, and despite the quality of running backs replacing Barkley in 2018, his abilities are going to be more heavily relied upon. Last season saw McSorley complete 67 percent of his passes with 28 touchdowns and another 11 touchdowns rushing.

If he can cut down on his turnovers (18 interceptions over the last two seasons) and remain healthy, McSorely could be the best quarterback in the country.

RB — Miles Sanders

How do you replace a generational freak of a running back? Answer: you don’t, but James Franklin has plenty of talent to help fill the void.

Fifth year seniors Mark Allen and Jonathan Thomas will contribute, and the 2018 No. 1 -ranked all-purpose back Ricky Slade is expected to see carries as well, but I expect Miles Sanders to do the heavy lifting this fall.

Sanders is a 5-foot-11, roughly 215-pound (I’ve see reports from 207 to 224 pounds) junior running back who was the top-ranked back in the 2016 class. Penn State players and fans alike are very high on Sanders’ potential with the only limiting factor being carries.

If the carries aren’t too heavily shared, 1,300 yards is within reason for Miles Sanders behind one of Penn State’s best offensive lines in recent memory.

WR — Justin Shorter

Of course, the obvious choices for play-making wide receivers are returners Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins, but the 5-star freshman recruit Justin Shorter is one player I think rises above the rest by the time November rolls around.

Penn State loses three of its top four receivers from last season, and the 6-foot-4, 226-pound Shorter is a dream for McSorley. Shorter’s abilities to high point balls in the red zone and take the top off the defense are tailor made for McSorley and this Nittany Lion offense.

It may take some time for him to adjust, but Shorter is the best receiving talent since Allen Robinson in Happy Valley.

Cornerback — John Reid

At a glance, Penn State losing all four starters from last year’s secondary does not bode well for 2018. However, Amani Oruwariye, who led the team in interceptions last season, returns and so does Penn State’s best corner from 2016, John Reid.

Reid was expected to be one of the cornerbacks in the country last season before an ACL injury in spring ball sidelined him for the season. Now, 100 percent healthy, expect a return to lockdown normalcy from Reid.

It’s also hard not to respect someone who takes gaming this seriously

LB — Micah Parsons

Linebacker is a big question mark for the Nittany Lions, but with another 5-star freshman poised to make a splash immediately, Penn State needn’t worry. At 6-foot-3, 240 (!!) pounds, Micah Parsons is stepping into rare air at Penn State: starting as a true freshman and wearing the coveted number 11 jersey.

Parsons’ athleticism, speed and violent nature should shorten the learning curve and allow him to make an immediate impact in the Big Ten. Penn State fans have thrown out names such as Lavar Arrington when comparing him, and I can’t say it’s hyperbole.

Micah Parsons is similar to Roddy Piper in They Live. He’s only here for two reasons.