Blue White Illustrated

September 2021

Penn State Sports Magazine

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7 4 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 1 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M W hen the weather forecaster calls for a rainy day that turns out to be a sunny one, nobody com- plains. But when the forecast is for a foot of snow and the skies deliver just a dusting, the naysayers come out in droves. Accuracy is not quite as impor- tant when it comes to predicting the outcome of a college football season; tornadoes are life-and-death matters, games are not. All the same, you'd bet- ter look out if a 6-6 pick precedes an 11-1 season. All this is to say that it's time for me to go on record about how I see James Franklin's eighth season at Penn State playing out. It's one of the more fas- cinating preseasons I can remember, mostly because there is so much at stake, with high expectations coming up against an extremely challenging start, and a lot of things we just can't possibly know the answer to until the pads go on in a setting other than Hol- uba Hall or the turf fields outside the Lasch Building. After camp, the year starts with a daunting trip to Wisconsin in week one, features a visit from new-look Auburn under Bryan Harsin for a White Out in week three, and only features a few soft spots, like the Villanova matchup at the end of September and a trip to Maryland at the beginning of November. Maybe a home date with Rutgers should be included there, too, but we're not ready to lump Greg Schiano's transfer-infused team into that cat- egory just yet. And while the Nittany Lions are expected to be big home fa- vorites when Michigan visits, it's not wise to write off Jim Harbaugh, even if he has a quarterback dilemma to figure out. According to the oddsmakers, Penn State should be 8-4 or 9-3 based on the listed win totals at various properties. It should be installed as the favorite against Ball State, Auburn, Villanova, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Maryland, Rutgers and Michigan State but an un- derdog opposite Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa. It's easy to look at that list, see an upset or two, and envision 10-2 or 11-1 as a possibility. But 8-4 isn't crazy talk, and 7-5 might not be either. That's because of the questions, and there are oh so many of them. Will Sean Clifford thrive in Mike Yurcich's offense or run too much and make too many mistakes? If he does need to be replaced, is either Ta'Quan Roberson or Christian Veilleux even re- motely ready to lead the offense? Everyone loves the transfer portal additions, and with good reason, but will they all live up to their hefty ex- pectations? How effective will the new offensive coordinator be? Is a mostly veteran of- fensive line going to keep him upright? Can Noah Cain play at 100 percent right away? Might linebacker depth be an issue? After the starting four, is there enough production along the defen- sive line? And can the secondary make more impactful plays and produce more turnovers? Generally speaking, can the defense be more bend and less break? If Wisconsin wins, will another tail- spin ensue, as was the case at the start of the 2020 season? Is this the year that there are no in- game coaching blunders to question? Yeah, that's a lot to worry about and too many assumptions to make one way or the other, and a few more un- knowns could have made the cut. A full offseason of on-field, in-per- son preparation cannot be understated. But then again, every opponent has had that advantage, too. So, it comes down to whether the gains made be- tween December and September were monstrous, above average, just OK or something less than that. And then there is the fact that whatever was gained during the offseason actually has to show up between the white lines come September and beyond. Let's go with somewhere between the top two, because it's just too hard to imagine that this team isn't motivated after last season's mess, especially with a new OC in town. Still, there may be too many storm clouds in the sky to reach, say, the Big Ten title game, especially with trips to Camp Randall, Columbus and Kinnick on the docket. I won't totally rain on the parade be- fore it begins, though, as this forecast calls for a 10-2 regular-season finish (with losses to Iowa and Ohio State) and a New Year's Six bowl game victory that catapults the Lions into a big 2022 season when one of the nation's best recruiting classes will add top-flight talent to the roster. If not? Well, unlike the missed bliz- zards of 2020, the most passionate fan base in the land will scrutinize every moment, remember every play and loyally follow every movement the Nit- tany Lions make this fall. Here's to seeing how it all plays out in the end. ■ O P I N I O N GREG PICKEL The Sky's The Limit THE LAST WORD Junior RB Noah Cain enters the 2021 season looking for a return to full health and his productivity from 2019. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL

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