Blue White Illustrated

September 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 65 of 67

6 6 S E P T E M B E R 2 0 2 3 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M T he most interesting offseason of the James Franklin era is nearly over. There has been plenty of talk. Now, finally, it's time to see if this Penn State football team can walk the walk. We've seen a multitude of polls that have put the Nittany Lions inside the top 10. Some observers have even called Franklin's 10th team in State College his best one yet and worthy of top-five consideration. The preseason hype surrounding this year's squad is unmatched by any Penn State team in at least the past 10 years. There is good reason for much of the praise the Nittany Lions have received. They have a former five-star quar- terback prospect in sophomore Drew Allar preparing to take center stage as a first-time starter. They also have two Doak Walker Award candidates in the backfield, even if only one of them — sophomore Nicholas Singleton — made the preseason watch list for the honor given to college football's best running back. The tight ends room is stacked. Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, like many others, thinks this is the best offensive line of the Franklin era. De- fensive end will not be a problem, nor will linebacker, safety or cornerback. The only major question marks are at wide receiver and on special teams. The former position group should take care of itself with relative ease as long as a few players follow their natural progression path, starting with the top returnees, junior KeAndre Lambert- Smith and redshirt sophomore Harri- son Wallace III. "KeAndre is a really dynamic re- ceiver, and he's still growing, he's still working," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "I think he's got a very high ceiling. He's fast, he runs re- ally good routes. He's getting better off press coverage. He's continuing to grow, and he's a seasoned guy with a lot of reps under his belt. We expect him to continue to trend in the right direction. "Tre Wallace is another guy who's got good speed and has got some power. He's got really good strength numbers. "And then the rest of the guys, we need them to continue to compete. We're going to continue to just push that room and make sure that they're becoming the best receivers they pos- sibly can be. That's what competition is all about. We're going to need all of those guys, and I hate to just single a few of them out. We're excited." The special teams are a bit more con- cerning. Unlike at other spots, there is little FBS-level game production at the kicker and punter positions. How- ever, coordinator Stacy Collins said he's confident that any issues will sort themselves out by the end of preseason camp and the arrival of West Virginia. Put it all together, and you can see why the hype train has left the station. "This team is locked and loaded," Big Ten Network analyst Howard Griffith said during a visit to campus early in preseason practice. "We have not seen them at this level yet, and they have every opportunity to achieve their goals after what we just saw today. "Now, we haven't seen the other [practices]. But I'm confident after what I just saw that this is not just a good team, but a re- ally good team." Griffith is not alone in that line of thinking, but now it's time to go out on the field and prove it. That starts with the opener against West Vir- ginia. The prime time environment will put ev- erything Penn State brings to the table this year on display. It will be a chance to show that Allar is prepared to meet the moment, that Singleton and fellow sophomore running back Kaytron Al- len are ready to roll, that the offensive line is capable of dominating, and that second-year coordinator Manny Diaz has another stout defense. Will mistakes happen? Of course; they happen in every opener. But at long last, after months of talk and pre- dictions and prognostication, it's just about time to play some football. Along with the growing feeling of excitement around the program comes the realization that Penn State is be- ing talked about like it never has before in the College Football Playoff era. It's now time to don the pads and helmets and find out how accurate those glow- ing appraisals are. Franklin, for one, is hopeful. "I think we've had a really good off- season, from winter workouts to spring ball to summer training," he said. "Our strength staff has done a phenomenal job. Our guys have done a phenomenal job. We are bigger, stronger and faster than we've been. I think we've got a bit more of a mature team, and that plays a role in it at some positions." How big a role? We'll start finding out on Sept. 2. ■ O P I N I O N GREG PICKEL GREG.PICKEL@ON3.COM After Months Of Talk, It's Time To Play Ball THE LAST WORD Junior receiver KeAndre Lambert-Smith is aiming for a breakthrough season after catching 24 passes for 389 yards and 4 touchdowns last year. PHOTO BY DANIEL ALTHOUSE

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