Blue White Illustrated

September 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 5 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M P laying pretend psychoanalyst is always a fun, if fruitless, exercise leading into the start of any college football season. The parsing of phrases, body language and minutiae, all before a single game has been played, makes for easy, highly unscientific fodder. And at Penn State this month, it's nearly impossible not to. Ahead of his 10th season with the program, head coach James Franklin seems different — intensely focused, but still at ease. His staff members are comfortable with one another, a by- product of stability. And the Nittany Lion players them- selves seem different — confident, but never to the point of cockiness. They know the opportunity for a great season is at hand, thanks to the combination of talent, depth and work ethic. They're eager to pursue it, too. In typical Franklin form, however, the temptation to put the cart before the horse is rejected flatly. "Are we excited about it?" he said at the team's preseason media day. "Yes. "Do we still have a lot of work to do and a lot of questions to answer? Yes." The reasons for excitement are plen- tiful. Sophomore Drew Allar brings to the quarterback position a five-star pedigree and corresponding expecta- tions. To date, he's done as much as he could do, short of starting and winning games. Those opportunities will come soon enough. But his supporting cast has as much to do with the offense's optimism as Allar's potential. This group is largely intact after ranking 20th in the FBS in scoring last season at 35.8 points per game. On the offensive line, junior left tackle Olumuyiwa Fashanu opted to return for another year with the Nittany Lions, delaying his entry into the NFL as a likely first-round draft pick. Meanwhile, the transition of super senior Hunter Nourzad from guard to center has gone smoothly, delivering an extremely intelligent and capable per- former to one of the game's most impor- tant, underappreciated jobs. At the skill positions, sophomore running back Kaytron Allen is a tried- and-true player who gets it done and will continue to do so. Junior tight end Theo Johnson has transformed his body and appears primed for a huge season. And, in sophomore running back Nicho- las Singleton, the Nittany Lions have a player vying to make the leap from eye- opening to transcendent. On the opposite side of the ball, there's a long list of candidates for truly dominating showings this season. At the defensive end position, junior Chop Robinson, redshirt senior Adisa Isaac and sophomore Dani Dennis-Sutton all could post the kind of sack numbers that will garner national attention. Sophomore Abdul Carter and junior Curtis Jacobs lead the linebacker corps, giving Penn State the potential for a havoc-inducing front seven. On the back end, the performances of junior Kalen King and senior Johnny Dixon at corner- back could prove critical to unlocking the defense's full potential. And those are just the brightest stars on a team full of players boasting experi- ence and all that comes with it. There are, of course, significant ques- tions, too, particularly at the wide re- ceiver and defensive tackle positions, as well as on special teams. But answers to those questions have been steadily emerging with the devel- opment of such players as junior wideout KeAndre Lambert-Smith and redshirt senior defensive tackle Hakeem Beamon. If Penn State's offense and defense meet their lofty potential, even a mid- dling performance in the kicking game should prove adequate. The picture that emerges is of a team capable of improving, even after an 11-2 finish and Rose Bowl victory a year ago. Competition at every position group has been propelling the team forward this preseason, a dynamic that Franklin sees as one of the Nittany Lions' strengths. "I do think this is as much depth as we have had," he said. "We have a three- deep at pretty much every position. I just don't remember us having that con- sistently across the board [in previous years]. "The stability on the staff, more depth, all those things are good, and I think they typically lead to giving yourself a chance to be successful." Whether or not Penn State can capi- talize on its opportunity remains to be seen. The Nittany Lions' two most for- midable East Division rivals, Michigan and Ohio State, were both College Foot- ball Playoff participants last season and are preseason top-five picks this year. They will be significant obstacles on the road to championship contention. But there's a lot of football to be played before Penn State faces the Buckeyes and Wolverines. The Lions' mission begins on Sept. 2 when they play host to West Virginia. For a team brimming with con- fidence, it's a mission that carries with it entirely realistic hopes of success. ■ Sophomore linebacker Abdul Carter is expected to be one of the Nittany Lions' top defensive playmakers after leading the team with 6.5 sacks last season. PHOTO BY GREG PICKEL O P I N I O N NATE BAUER NATE.BAUER@ON3.COM HOT READ PSU Has Many Reasons For Optimism This Fall

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