Could this be the year Penn State Football breaks through and makes the College Football Playoff?
Here’s a look at 5 keys to Penn State Football making the College Football Playoff in 2023
Strong Running Game
Last Season, the Penn State Nittany Lions were fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards, averaging 181.1 yards per game.
Freshman Nick Singleton led the Nittany Lions in rushing with 1,061 yards with 12 touchdowns.
Manny Diaz’s first season as the Nittany Lions’ defensive coordinator was a success; Penn State finishes tenth in scoring defense.
Also, the Nittany Lions finished top-16 in multiple defensive categories.
Penn State must replace cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and safety Ji’Ayir Brown.
Kalen King will step into the No.1 cornerback role, and is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Last season, Penn State Football only allowed 12 passing touchdowns, was second in pass efficiency defense. The Lions’ defensive backs led the nation with 85 pass breakups.
Penn State Football returns 10 of its top 12 defensive linemen, with Chop Robinson leading the way.
Expect the Nittany Lions defense to be strong again this season in year two of Diaz’s system.
Since the Nittany Lions having an excellent running game, teams will gear up to stop the rushing attack, leaving receivers with one-on-one coverage.
Penn State will be without receiver Parker Washington; he led the Nittany Lions in receiving yards with 611. The Lions will also be without Mitchell Tinsley, who led them in catches with 51 and touchdown receptions with, five.
Meanwhile, KeAndre Lambert-Smith will return, who had 24 catches for 369 yards and four touchdowns. Also returning will be Harrison Wallace, who produced 19 catches for 273 yards and one touchdown.
The Nittany Lions also went to work in the transfer portal to find receiver help. They brought in Dante Cephas from Kent State and Malik McClain from Florida State.
Cephas has twice earned All-MAC honors; he is from Pittsburg, Pennslyvania.
During Cephas’ redshirt sophomore season, he played in 14 games and had 82 receptions for 1240 yards with nine touchdowns.
Cephas averaged 15.1 yards per reception in 2021, and 15.5 in 2022, while proving to be an effective deep threat that could help the Penn State offense.
At 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, McClain will add size to the Nittany Lions’ receiving core.
McClain was a four-star recruit coming from Florida State. Last year at Florida State, McClain caught 17 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns. McClain will give quarterback Drew Allar a big body to throw to, and he could be very effective in the red zone.
Penn State also has solid tight ends with Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren; both are expected to play critical roles in the Nittany Lions offense.
Penn State receivers and tight ends must make plays down the field and beat one-on-one coverage.
Quarterback Drew Allar
It will be Allar’s first year starting. Last year, Allar passed for 344 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games behind Sean Clifford.
There will be plenty of opportunities for Allar to make a play down the field, with teams gearing up to stop the run.
Allar must take advantage of seeing man-to-man coverages and make intelligent plays.
Penn State has some talent at receiver and tight end, so there will be plays to be made. The play-action passing game should be a killer for the Nittany Lions.
Beating Michigan and Ohio State
This season, Penn State will likely have to beat Ohio State and Michigan to make the CFP.
The last time the Nittany Lions defeated Ohio State was in 2016, when they won 24-21 at home.
As for Michigan, Penn State Football beat them on the road 27-17 in Michigan during the COVID-impacted 2021 campaign.
At minimum, James Franklin’s team must split with the Big Ten’s top dog to have any chance of capitalizing on the talent of this roster to break through to the playoff for the first time.