Without offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and star running back Saquon Barkley, there are big question marks on the Penn State football team — and Athlon Sports clearly didn’t like the projected answers.
The national outlet released its preseason College Football Top 25 on Monday, and it ranked the Nittany Lions at No. 11 — a respectable ranking but one that put them behind No. 4 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan and No. 9 Wisconsin.
Michigan State was the only other ranked conference team at No. 12. Moorhead’s Mississippi State squad was No. 14.
Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan wrote about Penn State, “Winning the division will likely come down to how (Ricky) Rahne handles his first season as the offensive coordinator, along with how fast the defense settles into place with new faces stepping into key roles at every level.”
Every starting member of last season’s secondary is now in the NFL, the defensive tackles lack experience, and the linebackers need to find someone to replace vocal team leader Jason Cabinda. On the other hand, the offensive line should be better and Trace McSorley returns — along with the fact four of the Nittany Lions’ five best opponents will play at Beaver Stadium.
This isn’t just a regular preseason poll. Athlon Sports explained that these rankings are supposed to mirror the 2018 season’s end-of-year rankings.
The Nittany Lions will host the Buckeyes on Sept. 29 but head to the Big House on Nov. 3 to face Michigan. As is the case most years, those two contests will likely decide whether PSU makes a strong case for the College Football Playoff — or whether it’s once again on the outside looking in.
And, based on Athlon Sports’ rankings, Lassan and Co. are banking on the latter.