Penn State Football: Ranking Biggest Worries for 2024 Season

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NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

NittanyCentral is home for the latest Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, Penn State Basketball news, updates, and analysis of the Penn State Nittany Lions

The latest news, insight, and analysis of Penn State Football, Penn State Wrestling, and Penn State Basketball, including schedules, game results, analysis of breaking news, rumors, speculation, and recruiting coverage of future Penn State Nittany Lions

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Penn State Football: Ranking Biggest Worries for 2024 Season

Penn State Football has had varying levels of success in each of the past two seasons, however the Nittany Lions also have many areas of concern going into the 2024 season.

In this article I’m going to try to identify the key areas for concern and explain whey they are a concern. So buckle up for a long read. By now everyone should no I’m not one to skimp on word count when talking Penn State sports.

As an “FYI”, the first couple of sections are definitely areas of concern, but they don’t even register on my “concern scale”. So treat them as basically outside-looking-in. I’ve only deemed the top five worthy of the official “Penn State Chicken Cosmos Level of Concern” scale.

Penn State Football: Ranking Biggest Concerns for 2024

Penn State Football
Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

8. The Running game

In their true freshman campaigns, Kaytron Allen and Nick Singleton combined for 1,928 rushing yards and 24 total touchdowns. However last year the numbers dropped to 1,654 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns.

The decrease in production can be attributed to several factors.

The most obvious one is the fact the Nittany Lions did not stretch the field with the passing game at all. Like, not even a little bit.

This can be attributed to wide receivers who struggled to take the top off of the defense, an offensive coordinator who wasn’t a good fit, and a first year starting QB who was conservative for most of the season with his throws.

Although, the absolute polar opposite could be said about this QB as there were also times he was completely reckless with the ball. But more on this subject later.

The good news for Allen and Singleton is that they have a new offensive coordinator who uses a mixture of concepts to scheme a successful run game. Are you sick of seeing slow run plays up the middle from the shotgun on first and second down? Yeah, me too. Trust me, you won’t be seeing that next year.

The second positive factor for Allen and Singleton is that are both game-breaking and game-changing running backs and they can produce tough yards and huge runs while running behind even a mediocre offensive line.

But how is the offensive line next year? Good question. More on this subject later.

In the end, I feel like the run game is potentially a concern, but it’s just a blip on the radar.

7. Two brand spanking new coordinators

Penn State Football, Tom Allen
Tom Allen of the Indiana Hoosiers reacts to a play against the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Normally when a program has to replace both their defensive and offensive coordinators, it would clearly be the number one concern going into the following year. In Penn State’s case, it’s obviously a concern, but not one that I’m worried about.

Tom Allen is a coach who knows his X’s and O’s, he is highly regarded by both his peers and his players, and he came about as close as one could get from doing the impossible at Indiana. And that was turn the Hoosiers into a consistent, winning program.

I’m not worried about Allen at all. He absolutely loves coaching football and now he only has to worry about the defense, rather than an entire team.

The concern I do have is with the new offensive coordinator, Andy Kotelnicki. But it has nothing to do with his schemes, game plans, and offensive knowledge. Rather my concern is with how he and James Franklin will mix.

This may be a bit of an understatement, but head coach James Franklin has a fairly big personality and it doesn’t necessarily gel with everyone regardless of their football acumen.

Kotelnicki’s offense, if he’s given carte blanche to run it, will be drastically different than what Nittany Lion fans have seen between Joe Moorehead, Ricky Rahne, Kirk Ciarrocca, and Mike Yurcich.

And no, this has nothing to do with “Oh, James Franklin calls the plays on offense!”, because it’s 100% clear he does not call any of the normal plays. But it would be foolish to think the CEO of Penn State Football, who has an extensive past on the offensive side of the ball and who likes complete control in certain aspects of his staff, does not have his hands in the offense in some way.

Kotelnicki hopes to be able to come in, implement his system, and run things how he wants to run them. Because the proof is in the pudding with how he was able to transform Kansas’ offense.

If I had to guess, I think this will happen. Which is why this isn’t high up on the list.

6. Where are the game-changing receivers?

Penn State Football, KeAndre Lambert-Smith
Penn State Nittany Lions wide receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith (Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports)

To put it plainly, the receiving group from last year was far from the level you would expect for Penn State.

Especially when you consider guys like Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton, KJ Hamler, Pat Freiermuth, Jahan Dotson, and Parker Washington were in the wide receivers room over the past eight-plus seasons.

So how on earth can a program like the Nittany Lions whiff on so many wide receivers in recruiting when they have the pedigree of receivers from above?

Well, unfortunately, I do not have the answer to this question. But I do know the decline in game-changing receivers and the overall decline of the group as a whole has been a steady decline since Dotson was the main guy.

But there is some good news with the additions of both Julian Fleming from this year’s recruiting class.

Adding these two with the current crop of KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Harrison Wallace, and Malik McClain, could immediately make them a solid receiving group.

But until I see otherwise, I am a bit concerned overall about the receivers. Time will tell though.


2024 schedule

Penn State Football, Drew Allar
Penn State Nittany Lions Quarterback Drew Allar (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

For the first time in 12 years (2012), Penn State will not have to play both Ohio State and Michigan in the same season. Which based on the state of those programs is a good thing.

As for the addition of Oregon, Washington, USC, and UCLA to the Big Ten, well, I’m not overly concerned as Penn State plays all but Oregon next year.

The first half of the Nittany Lions’ schedule should be fairly easy as they travel to Morgantown to take on an above average West Virginia team, then they host Bowling Green, Kent State, Illinois, and UCLA in the next four contests.

None of those games scare me.

However, the next four games will make or break Penn State’s season as they travel to Los Angeles to take on USC, then hit the road following a bye week to face Wisconsin, before hosting both Ohio State and Washington.

The Trojans finished 8-5 last year with the No. 1 NFL pick as their QB, so I’m not worried USC will be a world beater next season. However any big road game is always cause for concern. And both USC and Wisconsin will be playing in front of their home crowds.

I do think the Nittany Lions will win both of those games though.

But one thing I don’t have to predict is the outcome of the OSU/PSU game. It’s going to be a loss. Book it, guaranteed, just accept it.

As for the final leg of their difficult stretch, Washington has to find a way to replace 16 of their 22 starters from both sides of the ball. I know the Huskies had a great team last year, but I don’t care who they bring in to replace the 16 missing starters, they are not coming into Beaver Stadium and beating Penn State.

Which means I have the Nittany Lions going 3-1 in this stretch. I realize that might be a bit optimistic, however, I want to build in the caveat that there is worry they could go 2-2, or even worse 1-3. But I think there’s very little chance of that.

Level of concern: 2/10 chicken cosmos

4. Offensive line

Penn State Football, Drew Allar
Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (Mandatory Credit: Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports)

As with other things I’ve mentioned so far in this article, until further notice and regardless of who Penn State has on their offensive line, I will just assume this unit will be somewhere along the lines of “mediocre” to “kind of adequate”. I’ve heard far too many times that “This year’s offensive line with be a strength of the team!”.

Just stop.

The starting 2018 offensive line had four NFL players on it for portions of the year. Did anyone notice during that season? Exactly.

The 2024 OL will need to replace Olu Fashanu, Hunter Nourzad, and Caedan Wallace, which will not be any easy task. So if Singleton and Allen can chew up yards on the ground efficiently, and if Drew Allar can stay upright in the pocket and have time to find an open receiver, then Phil Trautwein will need to earn every penny of his contract this offseason in getting the big hogs ready.

In the meantime, consider me “worried”.

Level of concern: 5/10 chicken cosmos

3. Replacing seven defensive starters

Penn State Football
Penn State Football cornerback Kalen King (Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire)

As previously stated, Tom Allen is a good coach who knows how to coach defense and he’s been around the block a few times already.

However the Nittany Lions will need to replace Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, Curtis Jacobs, Kalen King, Keaton Ellis, Johnny Dixon, and Daequan Hardy.

The additions of A.J. Harris from the portal help soften the blow in the secondary. These guys should help keep the defensive backs on the level Penn State fans have seen recently.

And between Abdul Carter, Kobe King, Tony Rojas, Tyler Elsdon, and Dominic DeLuca I’m not worried about the linebacker group.

It’s the defensive line I’m concerned about. While Penn State did add former Wisconsin three-star edge rusher, Jordan Mayer, he looks to be more “depth piece” than “impact player”.

Dani Dennis-Sutton, Amin Vanover, Zuriah Fisher, and Jameial Lyons will need to really improve in the offseason if they want to be anywhere near the disruptive force as the past couple of years.

The interior lineman have loads of experience with seniors Dvon Ellies and Hakeem Beamon, junior Coziah Izzard, and sophomore Zane Durant. But without guys like Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac anchoring the edges, the opposing offensive lineman won’t have to worry about double teaming the rushers as much. Which means the interior guys will need to be able to get a push against more double teams.

So it’s going to be up to the entire unit as a whole to get better going into next year. Color me “worried”.

Level of concern: 6/10 chicken cosmos

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2. Drew Allar

Penn State Football, Drew Allar
Drew Allar #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Five-star quarterbacks who lead Power Five teams to the promise land right out of the gate are quite rare. However it’s usually their second full year under center where they start to get the attention of opposing coaches and the national media.

And this coming season is going to be a “make or break” year for Drew Allar.

Last year the team heavily leaned on their NFL-bound defense to win games, but that simply cannot be the case going into this season. The offense will need to return the favor and pick up any of the slack left behind by it trying to replace seven starters.

So look no further than the five-star guy playing the most important position in all of sports to be the key cog in the machine.

But, is he really the guy who can do it? Can Allar actually rise to the level of the hype that surrounded his recruitment?

You could look back at last season and say, “Hey, Drew had no help at receiver and those guys couldn’t get any separation to help him.”. And that’s a fair assessment. However, I would ask if the people saying this are breaking down the all-22 video of each game for hours every week. Because if you aren’t, then how can I trust what you’re saying?

Good quarterbacks make their receivers better and good receivers make the quarterback’s job easier. It’s a two-way street.

So with the additions of Fleming and Reynolds and with the experience of Lambert-Smith and Tyler Warren, I would expect to see a big improvement from Allar this year.

Another observation I saw in relation to Allar’s inconsistent play dealt with the decline in the running game. Which I also get. It’s hard to find open guys and go through your progression when the defense clamps down close to the line of scrimmage because they don’t respect the deep ball.

Look, I don’t know if it was scheme or if Drew was reluctant to throw the ball downfield. All I know is that Penn State rarely did it last season. And that’s going to have to change. I understand Allar was trying to really limit the mistakes and take care of the ball. Which he did a great job of … most of the time.

I’ll just try to erase some of the most dreadful and head scratching INTs I’ve ever seen out of my memory.

Bringing this back full circle, if the Nittany Lions are going to be successful next year then Drew Allar will need to be an elite guy under center. But if he isn’t, how quickly will the coaching staff turn to the guy who can potentially move the chains more efficiently (Beau Pribula)?

Level of concern: 7/10 chicken cosmos

1. James Franklin

Penn State Football, James Franklin
Penn State Nittany Lions Head Coach James Franklin (Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire)

Before I dive into why I have James Franklin as the No. 1 Concern on my list, let’s first start by defining what a “successful season” would look like for Penn State next year.

It’s clear the 12 team playoff benefits the Nittany Lions more than any other program in the nation. And based on their schedule, I can see a clear path for Penn State to make the 2024 playoffs.

But would them just simply making the playoffs be considered a success?

I’m guessing if we polled the fanbase the majority would say “no”. So I’m going to take this a step further. For Penn State to have a successful 2024 campaign they will need to make the 12 team playoffs and win at least one game.

Does that sound fair?

Good, now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at my biggest concern for the Nittany Lions to pull this off.

At this point everyone knows what James Franklin is. He’s a really good recruiter, he recognizes coaching talent and brings them on board, and he runs a good college program.

The biggest knocks on him in the past dealt with games following the first loss of the season, the inexplicable losses to lesser teams, and his horrendous record coming out of bye weeks.

From the success on the field the past two years, I would say James Franklin has largely shook off the above critiques. But the larger one still looms large, and that’s the knock that the Nittany Lions under CJF do not out-coach and beat teams that are better than them.

How many times has Penn State beaten a team that was better than them on paper in the past 11 years?

By my count the number currently sits at “1” (2016 against Ohio State).

I’ll come back to this in a minute, but let’s first take a look at what Penn State will need to do next year to complete the first step and actually make the College Football Playoffs.

Looking at their 2024 schedule, which I touched on earlier, I think it’s very reasonable to expect Penn State to go 10-2. And based on the Nittany Lions’ past 10-2 finishes, you would expect this to put them squarely into the middle of a 12 team playoff. However, take a gander at Penn State’s ranking from the final CFP rankings from their past 10-2 seasons:

2017 – 9th

2018 – 13th

2022 – 9th

2023 – 10th

Based on what the CFP committee thinks of a two-loss Penn State team, they would still barely squeak into a 12 team playoff. And based on what happened in last year’s stinker against Ole Miss, you better believe if there is a 10-2 Tennessee or 10-2 Ole Miss team, they are going to be above the Nittany Lions. Even though it was a game last year between two teams with completely different rosters this coming season, it will play a part in it.

So I feel like for Penn State to be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs they will need to finish no lower than 11-1. Which leaves no wiggle room for the Nittany Lions when they travel to USC and Wisconsin and it leaves them no outs if they somehow drop a game to Purdue or Maryland.

This is a big concern for me, especially given the other areas of concern from above.

Furthermore, if the Nittany Lions do indeed have a successful season, then they will need to finish the regular season with no more than one loss and they will be taking on a good team in the opening round of the playoffs.

And I would love to be proven wrong, but the chances of Penn State finishing 11-1 and then winning a playoff game are simply low. Everything Nittany Lions fans have seen from James Franklin squarely point to that conclusion. I’m not saying you have to like it, I’m just saying you need to accept reality because he’s proven that he’s a “good”, not “elite” coach.

Level of concern: 10/10 chicken cosmos

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