There’s great optimism for the Nittany Lions this season, and a College Football Playoff berth could be in the cards if the team can navigate the schedule with only one loss.
This is how esteemed members of the Penn State beat see the season playing out, starting with my own record prediction, followed by perhaps the most interesting pick, coming from David Jones of PennLive.com.
For those keeping score: There are 10 predictions for 7-2, and 10 for 8-1, so an even split from the media.
Cory Giger, Nittany Sports Now
7-2: The Lions get a bad break not being able to have the whiteout and tremendous home-field advantage for the Ohio State game. I see them losing there to the Buckeyes, then at Michigan on the road. There’s a lot of talent on this team, but losing Micah Parsons is a bigger blow than most people want to let on, and if Journey Brown can’t play this season, that takes a very talented running back out of the mix.
David Jones, PennLive.com
8-1: I have them 8-1, losing at Indiana and then running the table.
Greg Pickel, PennLive.com
8-1: I think Kirk Ciarrocca will improve Sean Clifford’s footwork and that will lead the Lions to win every game but Ohio State. I think this will Brent Pry’s best defense and the offense will take enough of a step forward to win every game but Ohio State.
Frank Bodani, York Daily Record
8-1: Penn State is set to control games with its best offensive line in years combine with a deep running back room and an even better Sean Clifford at quarterback. But will it be enough to topple Ohio State What they truly want begins with that.
Donnie Collins, Scranton Times-Tribune
7-2: I think Penn State has the talent to go 9-0. But I think this schedule fell — obviously through no fault of anybody’s — very much against them. I don’t know if they have so much talent that they can overcome Ohio State at home without the whiteout crowd. And they’ve struggled for a decade in Ann Arbor, and I’m not sure the crowd is ever that big a factor there. They can prove me wrong, for sure. But trends say an unbeaten season will be a tough ask.
Neil Rudel, Altoona Mirror
7-2: I see a couple toe stubs due to personnel and leadership losses, transition of new coaches and lack of fans leveling the Big Ten field.
Rich Scarcella, Reading Eagle
8-1: After four straight top 15 recruiting classes, Penn State has its most talented and deepest roster in quite a while. Ohio State, of course, stands in the way in the Big Ten East. The Lions might be closing the gap, but it’s still there.
Mark Brennan, Lions247 with Fight On State
8-1: There have been two groups of unsung heroes for Penn State through this crazy year. First, strength coach Dwight Galt (above) and his crew did a great job of keeping the players fit and ready through a roller-coaster of an off-season. Second, the training staff — knock on wood, PSU fans — set up outstanding COVID-19 safety protocols that by and large have kept the Nittany Lions healthy. What’s that old saying about the best “ability” being “availability?” To me, having the deepest and most talented offensive line of the James Franklin era will help mitigate the change in offensive coordinators. Also, don’t sleep on the fact that the new offensive coordinator in question, Kirk Ciarrocca, exposed serious flaws in the Nittany Lions’ pass defense while OC at Minnesota last year. The input he’s given to PSU DC Brent Pry and the rest of the defensive staff has been invaluable.
Tyler Donohue, Lions247 with Fight On State
8-1: Penn State has the on-field talent to outclass most of its opponents this autumn, and I believe offensive staff upgrades will pay dividends as the campaign progresses. I’m picking Ohio State to hand these Nittany Lions their only loss and while there are valid reasons to think a second (or third) defeat awaits in a tricky season, starting with pesky Indiana, if I’m right the door should be open for CFP consideration.
Nate Bauer, BlueWhite Illustrated
8-1: Front-line talent and depth are essential to reaching the upper echelon of college football, but it’s the true difference-makers that allow entrance into the elite. Penn State lost that with Micah Parsons’ opt out before the season, making more elusive the potential for a win against Ohio State in week two. Second in the East might still be enough for a playoff bid, though, and Penn State will put itself in a position to make the committee have to consider it.
Ryan Snyder, BlueWhite Illustrated
7-2: Penn State will again be one of the Big Ten’s top teams, but it’s hard for me to predict a win over Ohio State with no fans in Beaver Stadium. I could see them slipping up in one other game this season, finishing third or fourth in the conference.
Audrey Snyder, The Athletic
7-2: I struggle to see Penn State and anyone else in the Big Ten getting past Ohio State. Where that second loss comes is anyone’s guess as Michigan potentially (finally, maybe?) with a quarterback could be the second loss or that 9th game against the Big Ten West.
Matt Fortuna, The Athletic
8-1: This is as high as I’ve been on Penn State during the James Franklin era, due in no small part to the fact that I thought last year’s 11-2 team was a little ahead of schedule and so many key pieces are back. Throw in the fact that new OC Kirk Ciarrocca is a brilliant play-caller (as PSU fans learned the hard way last season at Minnesota), and I think this team has a serious chance to win the Big Ten and make the Playoff this year. The one hang up? No true home-field advantage, which could have been the push the Lions needed to get past an incredibly talented Ohio State team in Week 2.
Joe Juliano, Philadelphia Inquirer
7-2: Losses to Ohio State and Iowa. This may be one of the most talented teams of the James Franklin era but questions at wide receiver and in the back seven on defense should leave the Nittany Lions short of the Big Ten title game and the College Football playoff.
Mark Wogenrich, SI.com
7-2: There’s plenty to anticipate about Penn State’s season, notably on offense, with the new scheme and returning personnel. But the season also carries so much unpredictability that even three losses wouldn’t be surprising.
Parth Upadhyaya, Centre Daily Times
7-2: With the absence of star LB Micah Parsons and now standout RB Journey Brown, Penn State is bound to lose at least a slight edge. This Nittany Lions team is still one of the most talented in head coach James Franklin’s seven-year tenure, but look for the group to fall in its week two battle with a likely College Football Playoff-bound Ohio State squad, and potentially to whichever West Division foe it is matched up with in week nine.
Nubyjas Wilborn, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
8-1: It’s a pandemic so don’t hold me to this. But, the Nittany Lions are the second most talented team in the conference. While they’re not ready to beat Ohio State. They should win every other game including the second place Western team.
Derek Levarse, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
7-2: Penn State will make valuable strides under new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca but will be left wondering what might have been in a normal year.
Josh Moyer, Centre Daily Times
7-2: There’s never been a more difficult season to predict, with so many variables and unknowns moving forward. But, even without KJ Hamler and Journey Brown, I see this offense improving with a better coordinator and offensive line. We’ll see if that’s enough.
Jon Sauber, Centre Daily Times
8-1: It’s hard to ignore what looms in week two for Penn State, but the Nittany Lions should run the table from there. Wisconsin could pose a threat during championship week if it falls to second in the Big Ten West, but that seems unlikely. I’ll go with a loss to Ohio State ans the team’s only blemish.
Andrew Kalista, Fox 43
8-1: Without Parsons this defense is still going to be good. Good enough to beat Ohio State? The Buckeyes are still the Buckeyes, and no matter what magic that comes from the video board and paper cutouts, Penn State loses by 7 points in an empty stadium. At what point does Penn State win again in Ann Arbor? Check that “complete.” Penn State is the better team. It is time for them to show it in the Big House. No matter who Penn State plays from the West in championship week, I will take the Lions.