Ball State Mid American Conference NCAA

Penn State football right where it should be in way-too-early rankings


Even after one of the worst seasons in program history, Penn State surprisingly ranked among the top teams in college football.

Coming off of a 4-5 finish in 2020, the Nittany Lions now hover around the No. 20 mark in multiple preseason rankings, making it as high as No. 16 in the College Football News ranking.

Penn State’s 2020 season started out worse than predicted, but it’s easier to understand if you consider the hits its roster took.

Having lost the eventual No.12 overall pick Micah Parsons due to opt out and running backs Journey Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford for the majority of the season due to injury plagued the team’s ability to get off to a strong start, losing its first five games.

But the Nittany Lions found their footing, ending the season on a four-game win streak.

Its strong finish and returning pieces play major parts in Penn State’s performance in the preseason polls.

Nineteen starters from last season will don the blue and white once again in the fall, including eight All-Big Ten honorees.

Sean Clifford will most likely be the starter under center for the third straight season, along with the aforementioned running backs — with the exception of Brown — and senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson to lead the offense.

The public also got to witness new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich’s fast-paced offense during the spring practices held in Beaver Stadium.

While there may be some inconsistency to start the season, the Nittany Lions have three home nonconference games to work out major kinks before Big Ten play begins.

Depth on the defensive side of the ball hindered Penn State’s abilities to stay competitive for the duration of contests, and it’s a problem that has persisted for a number of years. However, it’s an area the blue and white has improved upon significantly.

South Carolina transfer Johnny Dixon and freshman Kalen King add to the cornerback position, while freshman Kobe King and Temple transfer Arnold Ebiketie join the linebacker and defensive end groups, respectively.

James Franklin raved about both Kings’ progress under defensive coordinator Brent Pry during the spring, along with the talent added courtesy of the transfer portal on both sides of the ball.

Coupled with the number of quality starters and reserves from last season, Franklin and his staff should be optimistic about where the team fell in the preseason rankings heading into summer camp.

Penn State was not making it anywhere near its top-10 preseason ranking from 2020 because the disappointing finish makes it necessary for the Nittany Lions to prove themselves first.

But with experienced starters, a number of transfers and talented underclassmen, Penn State’s way-too-early ranking spots fit its situation well.

As long as the Nittany Lions can avoid the injury bug and other unforeseeable circumstances, they should be in a much better place to live up to their preseason expectations in 2021.

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