As we countdown the final minutes until Penn State Football is officially back in our lives, the hype train feels like it has ascended to a crescendo, and is fully off the tracks.
The Nittany Lions have become a trendy if not even popular College Football Playoff pick by some of the biggest outlets in the sport. Josh Pate on his late kick podcast, Braden Gall on his Athlon Sports Cover 2 pod were the latest to pencil them into the final four this past week.
Despite the hype and high expectations, there are a few areas of concern for the No. 7 ranked team in the nation, and a few players, not named Drew Allar, that could make or break this season for James Franklin’s talented team.
Penn State Football Make or Break Players for 2023
3. Dante Cephas – Wide Receiver
One of the few looming question marks on this offense is wide receiver and who will emerge as that third target for Allar.
Keandre Lambert-Smith returns and looks poised for a breakout as wide receiver one, while Harrison Wallace looks to be the guy opposite Smith as head coach James Franklin has heaped praise on him all offseason.
The Lions brought in Cephas via the transfer portal from Kent State, where he put up huge numbers in the MAC conference.
Academic issues caused a delay in his arrival to State College until June. Cephas was one of the highest rated players and wide receivers in the 247sports transfer portal and was looked at as a massive addition this offseason.
We saw Omari Evans stand out during the Blue-White game at the end of spring, and have heard names like Kaden Saunders and Liam Clifford brought up by the staff and even Drew Allar, but those feel like names that still have a lot to prove.
Over his last two seasons at Kent State, Cephas posted 130 catches, 1,984 yards and 12 touchdowns and possesses a skill set that should translate from the MAC to the Big Ten. Listed at six foot and nearly 200 pounds he looks the whole part of a big time wide receiver.
His emergence, or the lack thereof could make or break this wide receiver room and play a part in quarterback Drew Allar’s development and whether or not this offense can take that next step to put Penn State Football over the top.
2. Kobe King – Linebacker
The Nittany Lions defense is loaded, and some think it even has the potential to be not only one of the best in the nation, but THE best.
If there is one position of concern it is right in the middle of the defense at middle linebacker, where Kobe King and Tyler Elsdon have once again battled for the starting job this spring and summer.
King is the featured player here, as Eldson took the primary amount of snaps last year and struggled to be a consistent tackler and was exposed when in space with playmakers. Elsdon was banged up this spring and it may have allowed for King to take over, however with no depth chart to work off of, we will have to wait till Saturday night to know for sure.
King, listed at six-foot-one and 242 pounds fits the bill you look for as an inside backer in the Big Ten.
If he can take that next step in being more consistent, this Penn State defense can take that next step to truly being elite.
However, when they play run heavy teams, having that third linebacker on the field to stop the north and south run game could be a game changer for the Nittany Lions.
As a redshirt freshman in 2022, King appeared in all 13 games and collected 41 tackles, with four tackles for a loss.
1. Caedan Wallace – Right Tackle
Caedan Wallace feels like the type of player who could have appeared on this type of list the past three seasons for Penn State.
This offseason figured to be a competition between Wallace and sophomore Drew Shelton who played well as a freshman last season, but Franklin has made more than a few references to Wallace this offseason, leading us to believe he will be given the first chance to hold down that spot when the offense trots out at Beaver Stadium this Saturday night.
The offensive line has been a constant point of contention, speculation, criticism and really all of the above during Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley, but this year feels different. Anchored by a sure fire top ten NFL draft pick at left tackle in Olu Fashanu, depth provided by multiple 5-star freshman, this could be Franklin’s best offensive line yet, and by a wide margin.
Wallace has struggled in years past, primarily in pass blocking and was benched last year for Bryce Effner. If offensive line coach Phil Trautwein can finally get to him, and work some magic, Wallace hitting his potential and becoming a legitimate starting right tackle would be an utter gamechanger for this season.
Wallace is a massive human at six-foot-five and 328 pounds which is part of what makes him such an intriguing prospect and someone you don’t give up on, rather continue to give chances to.