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Michigan 2023 opponent preview: Penn State

Is this James Franklin’s best Penn State roster yet?

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Media Day Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The spotlight in the Big Ten this year is on Michigan and Ohio State, but this might be James Franklin’s best Penn State roster since the 2016 team that won the Big Ten title.

Penn State is ranked fifth in ESPN’s SP+ preseason rankings, and if the young players progress as Franklin hopes they will, the Nittany Lions could might have a shot at the College Football Playoff for the first time.

Week 10 - Penn State Nittany Lions

  • 2022 Record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big Ten
  • Head Coach: James Franklin, 10th season
  • Key Losses: CB Joey Porter Jr., S Ji’Ayir Brown
  • Key Additions: WR Dante Cephas

Penn State has the best running back room in the Big Ten outside of Ann Arbor. Nick Singleton rushed for 1,061 yards as a freshman last season, and fellow freshman Kaytron Allen was right behind him with 867 yards. Those two are only going to get better, and having both players protect the Nittany Lions in case one gets hurt is huge. Not to mention, the offensive line should be better than it’s ever been. Left tackle Olu Fashanu is the anchor, providing huge gaps for Singleton and Allen, all while protecting sophomore quarterback Drew Allar.

All of that might sound familiar. Penn State’s offense, on paper at least, looks similar to Michigan’s in 2022: two star running backs, a loaded offensive line and a new, well-heralded quarterback tasked with elevating the team somewhere it’s never been.

Penn State didn’t lose much offensive talent aside from Sean Clifford and some receivers, but Allar and Kent State transfer receiver Dante Cephas hope to bridge that gap.

The big questions for Penn State are on defense, where Manny Diaz looks to replace first team All-Big Ten cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and the team’s leader in tackles and interceptions, safety Ji’Ayir Brown. Cornerback Kalen King will be an important piece, but other defensive backs will need to step up to fill that void. The defensive line led the Big Ten in sacks last season, and with a strong core group all back — Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, Abdul Carter — the unit should be good once again.

The roster is pretty similar on paper to the Wolverines in 2022, when Michigan beat the Nittany Lions 41-17. Is the player development plus a potential quarterback upgrade with Allar enough to close that gap? By the time Week 10 comes around (especially after their matchup with Ohio State in Week 7), that’ll all be in clearer focus.