Week in and week out, I’ll be fielding your Penn State football questions and answering them here in the mailbag — and this go-around, there were a few interesting inquiries.
Let’s take a look:
Will Saquon (Barkley) break Lydell Mitchell’s career rushing touchdowns record of 38 this season? Jon, from Pittsburgh
Yes, he will. Mitchell’s mark of 38 touchdowns over three seasons, including a program-high 26 in 1971, is impressive — but Barkley is in firm position to surpass that career mark in 2017. Barkley sits at 25 career rushing scores after 18 in 2016, so he’ll need 13 to tie and 14 to set a new record. Outside of injury, what would slow Barkley down this upcoming season? The offense? Nope, he’s still the focal point of Joe Moorhead’s attack. The offensive line? This group can be the best Penn State’s had in years. Barkley is a once-in-a-generation type player — and when he likely leaves Penn State after this season to be a first-round pick, a new program record will reflect that.
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Seems like Penn State got a lot of breaks last year (50/50 balls, big comebacks, etc.). Over time, seems to even out. Trouble this year? — Andy, on Twitter @lionspride95
I wouldn’t say trouble is on the horizon. I’d consider the blocked field goal returned for a touchdown against Ohio State as a break, something you don’t expect to happen at all. But 50-50 balls and sizable comebacks? That’s just a byproduct of Moorhead’s offense. The 50-50 balls are more of a calculated risk than a hey-hopefully-this-works kind of thing. When the Nittany Lions had Chris Godwin on the other end, those deep shots seemed like 80-20 balls, anyway, and guys like Saeed Blacknall, Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles have the ability to keep that going. As far as the big comebacks, it’s still baffling how that explosive offense was dormant for so many first and second quarters. But the defense always kept Penn State within reach, and Moorhead’s group did its thing in the second half. I believe you’ll continue to see the Nittany Lions thrive in 2017 with the 50-50 balls and balance things out offensively, so they’re not necessarily relying on those second-half comebacks.
Will Penn State end up with a top-5 recruiting class this year? — Andrew, on Twitter @Andrew_3289
James Franklin and his staff couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The Nittany Lions, with 12 prospects verbally committed, rank second to only Miami in 247 Sports’ 2018 recruiting class rankings. But will that ranking hold up? Penn State has two five-star recruits — defensive end Micah Parsons and quarterback Justin Fields — as well as eight four-star and two three-star commits right now. Parsons, who visited Penn State in mid-March, named his dog Brutus and has serious interest from Ohio State, so who knows if he’ll stay put? Losing him would push Penn State down in the rankings a bit. Another thing to consider: It’s still April. It’s super early. Alabama, which has finished No. 1 each of the last seven seasons, currently sits at No. 17 in the rankings. Nick Saban’s crew has four commits, but you know the Crimson Tide are most likely going to end up in that No. 1 spot come February. Taking out my imaginary crystal ball, I’d say Penn State ends up in the No. 6-8 range. Franklin and his staff are gaining a lot of momentum on the recruiting trail, no doubt, but heavy-hitters — Alabama, Ohio State, USC to name a few — are waiting in the wings to eventually vault over the Nittany Lions.