Penn State Football is coming off its fourth 11-win season since 2016 and the expectations are high entering the 2023 campaign.
The Nittany Lions return key offensive contributors such as Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen, and Theo Johnson. While the defense looks to be the deepest in years with Kalen King, Abdul Carter, and Chop Robinson all returning.
This will be the 10th season for head coach James Franklin, and at a minimum, is probably in the top 3 when evaluating overall talent.
Is the most talented Penn State Football roster under James Franklin?
That team had high expectations entering the season with a preseason AP ranking of No. 6. The team sprinted out to a 7-0 start that included a thrilling last play victory at Iowa that thrust star running back Saquon Barkley to Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
The team rolled through No. 19 Michigan 42-13 for the annual whiteout game. and climbed all the way to No. 2 in the AP poll.
The magical run came to an end with No. 2 Penn State falling to No. 6 Ohio State in Columbus after a 4th quarter collapse that saw the Nittany Lions squander a double-digit lead and ultimately lose 39-38.
The following week many fans remember the torrential rainstorm that hit East Lansing and caused a multi hour weather delay and delivered the Nittany Lions their 2nd loss of the season.
Penn State would finish strong to end the regular season scoring 157 points in the final 3 games and eventually take down No. 12 Washington in the Fiesta Bowl.
That team finished No. 8 in the AP Poll, and while that was close to where they started the season, however the criticism of James Franklin began to bubble in 2017 because of the close losses and lack of ability to finish late in games.
If there was ever a team to compare talent wise with 2023 it was certainly this team. I still believe that 2017 was one of the best chances for Penn State to win a National Championship since those late 90s teams.
While this season was strange, and without fans, before the pandemic it was expected to be a big year for Penn State Football.
The Nittany Lions were fresh off another 11-2 season and a Cotton Bowl win over Memphis where RB Journey Brown and LB Micah Parsons had breakout games. Both were expected to return and have massive seasons.
The pandemic didn’t just cause a weird conference only schedule with no fans, it saw Penn State lose Journey Brown to a discovered heart condition that forced him to medically retire. On the defensive side of the ball, Micah Parsons joined LSU standout WR Jamar Chase in deciding to sit out the COVID year, and prepare for the draft.
Despite all that, the AP voters still had the Nittany Lions ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll.
That disappeared in just two weeks after an upset loss to Indiana (Penix was short) and a home loss to Ohio State.
The season would get worse from there as Penn State had their worst start in school history losing the first 5 games.
The team finished strong on a 4-game win streak and then opted out of a bowl.
The preseason ranking was the second highest in the James Franklin era, and it is hard to say how the season would have ended if even just Micah Parsons played.
Nonetheless, the 2020 season is often erased from many fans’ memories, but the hype and expectations are similar to 2023.
The expectations for the upcoming season are like what we saw in 2017 and 2020.
Almost all the early rankings have Penn State ranked inside the top 10.
While we won’t know exactly where the Nittany Lions rank in the Coaches or AP poll until August, it is safe to say that they will be ranked in the top-10 for the 4th time since James Franklin arrived at Penn State.
When looking at raw talent this team has similar star power to the 2020 team.
Penn State pulled three 5-stars in the 2022 class with Drew Allar, Nick Singleton, and Dani Dennis-Sutton.
James Franklin has always been a star quarterback away from taking the next step. With the best offensive line in the last decade and two superstar running backs, this may finally be the year that can be a reality.
The talent is there for Allar, we will just have to wait and see how much he has improved after backing up Sean Clifford for an entire season and another offseason of training. On the defensive side of the ball Dani Dennis-Sutton had a breakout 2023 Blue-White game and will be an important piece to provide some additional pash rush opposite of Chop Robinson.
Penn State Football was bullied last season against Michigan up front and if they want to contend for the Big Ten this season they will have to deal with that nasty Wolverine offensive line once again. If Dennis-Sutton can be the 5-star that his recruiting profile says he is, there isn’t a reason to believe that the Nittany Lions can beat the Wolverines when they come to town in November.
Who Really Knows How Good Penn State Football Will Be?
We will know in August when the 247 Team Talent Composite Rankings come out where this roster stacks up against some of those teams from the past.
Although it is important to remember that recruiting rankings provide a base but not development.
Trace McSorley was a 3-star and Saquon Barkley was a 4-star. I think it is safe to say that both played above their high school rating. Not all 5-stars pan out either, look at Ricky Slade and Justin Shorter.
One important note for 2023 is this might be the first time in the James Franklin era that 3 players are drafted in the 1st round with Fashanu, King, and Robinson.
Fans of my generation have heard all of these things before, maybe this will finally be the year that Penn State breaks through to the elite.