11-2 and a Rose Bowl—that was the end result of head coach James Franklin's Penn State Nittany Lions last season.
By all appearances, this would be a successful season. Yet, for some Nittany Lions fans, it was a familiar refrain: a season that was seemingly good but not good enough considering the high standards bestowed upon the program.
One can view it from this perspective: their losses came to both Michigan and Ohio State, two of the best teams in the country who happened to make last year's college football playoffs. From this standpoint, the Nittany Lions were the third-best team in the Big Ten Conference, and if this had occurred differently, perhaps they would have been playoff bound.
A Strong Recruiting Class
From a recruitment standpoint, the Nittany Lions are looking stronger than they have ever been. Their recruiting class, ranked 13th by 247Sports composite team rankings, features 4-star offensive linemen Alex Birchmeier and J'ven Williams. A name that should register this season for the Nittany Lions is linebacker Tony Rojas, who was a standout in this year's Blue-White Game.
An Offense With Huge Potential
There is no question that the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions on offense is All-Big Ten tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu. Arguably the best thing to happen to Franklin's team this offseason was his decision to stay one more season. Fashanu comes into this season as one of the top players at his position and a potential first-round prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Through the transfer portal, they added one of the top receivers in Dante Cephas, a player who has accumulated 2,139 yards in four years with Kent State. Receiver Malik McClain comes in from the portal as an underrated talent out of Florida State. At 6'4, his size and speed can help give them a presence on the outside.
The biggest weapon will be running back Nick Singleton. As a true freshman in 2022, Singleton led his team in rushing yards (941) and rushing touchdowns (10), while averaging 25.8 yards as a kick returner. Both he and Kaytron Allen should comprise one of the top back tandems in the nation, having rushed for 1,928 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Depth And Strength On Defense
The true strength of the Nittany Lions will be on defence, which will have former Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz scheming his unit this upcoming season. Up front, defensive lineman Adisa Isaac is returning for his fifth year to lead the way. Alongside Isaac is a formidable pass rush featuring edge rusher Demeioun "Chop" Robinson and
Dani Dennis-Sutton, who combined for 8.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss last season.
With both Joey Porter Jr. and Ji'Ayir Brown departing for the NFL, their secondary will lean on safety Keaton Ellis, returning for his fifth year. Last season, Ellis finished with 24 tackles, two tackles for loss, and seven pass breakups.
From top to bottom, this year's Nittany Lions are one of the most balanced teams in college football. Ultimately, their success will be based on whether they can beat the gatekeepers of the Big Ten Conference, Michigan and Ohio State. By all appearances, Coach Franklin has the right ingredients to win big this season and make a strong case for a spot in the playoffs.