Penn State Football

How many games will Penn State win in 2019? Here are our season predictions, MVP picks

What is Penn State football’s mantra this year

Penn State football coach James Franklin talks about the mantra for the 2019 season at media day on August 3, 2019.
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Penn State football coach James Franklin talks about the mantra for the 2019 season at media day on August 3, 2019.

Rest easy, Penn State fans — the Nittany Lions will kick off the 2019 football season in about two weeks. Until then, however, we thought we’d take a look at the season as a whole and predict where PSU will finish.

Is the College Football Playoff in James Franklin’s future, or a bottom-tier bowl? Who will be the offensive MVP? And what about the breakout star? We polled five members of our staff, who’ll be making game predictions every week of the season, to see what they thought.

Here’s what they said:

Josh Moyer: 8-4

Offensive MVP: WR KJ Hamler

Defensive MVP: LB Micah Parsons

Breakout: DE Jayson Oweh

This might be the most difficult season to predict of James Franklin’s tenure. Saturday Down South and USA Today both labeled the Nittany Lions as “overrated,” while several others — such as The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel — called them “underrated.” At issue is essentially how Penn State’s offensive wild cards will perform this season.

Some look at Sean Clifford and already see one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, for example. Others see an unproven QB who’ll lead PSU to six wins. I fall somewhere in the middle. There’s no denying this defense will border on elite and, on offense, there should be no concern at running back. But three things prevent me from predicting a better record: Ricky Rahne at offensive coordinator, a drop-off at quarterback and tough Big Ten opponents.

I like Clifford and the way he carries himself. But McSorley was one of the top-5 QBs in Penn State history and, as good as Clifford is, he’s not going to rise to that level Week 1. Rahne had some curious calls last season — let’s just mention “fourth-and-5” once here and move on — and I’m not yet sold on him. And opponents that used to be automatic W’s, like Purdue and Minnesota, could be a challenge this season. New coaches have breathed life into those previously doormat programs.

When you add all that up, I think you get an exciting team that — in 2020 — could compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff. But, in 2019, there’ll be too many growing pains to reach double-digit wins.

Jon Sauber: 9-3

Offensive MVP: QB Sean Clifford

Defensive MVP: DE Yetur Gross-Matos

Breakout: WR Jahan Dotson

Penn State comes into 2019 with a talented, but inexperienced, roster. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford is expected to lead the offense with only seven career passing attempts.

Clifford will have plenty of weapons around him on offense, with the team’s top two pass-catchers from 2018 returning. Sophomore tight end Pat Freiermuth and redshirt sophomore wide receiver KJ Hamler come back to help Clifford on offense. Sophomore wide receiver Jahan Dotson is set to break out as a reliable weapon for Clifford thanks to his route-running ability and reliable hands. With that being said, question marks along the offensive line make it difficult to project Penn State as a top offense in 2019.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions should have one of the top units in the country this season. They’re led by dominant junior defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, who will have a chance to establish himself as a first-round pick in the 2020 draft. He’ll anchor a defensive line that features good depth on the outside but isn’t as deep in the interior. Sophomore linebacker Micah Parsons will help the pass rush when he blitzes and will make plays all over the field with his combination of athleticism and instincts.

Even with the stellar defense, the offensive issues are enough of a question mark to cause a few losses for the Nittany Lions.

Lauren Muthler: 9-3

Offensive MVP: RB Ricky Slade

Defensive MVP: DE Yetur Gross-Matos

Breakout: OL Rasheed Walker

With such a young and untested offense, it’s understandable why some critics think seven wins might be a stretch. However, without the burden of high expectations and with the potential of younger players — such as former five-star recruits WR Justin Shorter and RB Ricky Slade and four-star QB Sean Clifford — I think Penn State will surprise some people. The defense will undoubtedly be the cornerstone of this year’s team, but if the OL can stay healthy and Clifford shows the level of confidence and skill his teammates say he’s exhibiting in practice, the Nittany Lions should be able to beat most middle-of-the-road Big Ten teams, and maybe, just maybe, pull an upset.

The five most difficult games I see for Penn State are Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota — with Purdue as a potential trap game before the Nittany Lions head to Iowa City. I think Penn State will finally crack Michigan State — on the road — for its big “upset” of the season but then lose to the Hawkeyes. Even though games against Minnesota, Purdue and Indiana might be tight, I think the young Nittany Lions will show some grit and pull them out.

If Penn State can go 9-3 during what is largely a transition year, Nittany Lions fans should have a lot to look forward to in the future.

Bret Pallotto: 7-5

Offensive MVP: WR KJ Hamler

Defensive MVP: LB Jan Johnson

Breakout: RB Ricky Slade

Four of Penn State’s first five games are at Beaver Stadium, with the exception being a trip to Maryland in Week 4. A 5-0 start doesn’t seem unreasonable. Add wins at home against Indiana and Rutgers in November, and you’ve found seven wins on the schedule.

However, since 2015, the Nittany Lions are 3-9 against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State and Michigan are preseason top-10 teams, and Michigan State will be coming off a bye when it meets Penn State. Losses to those programs leave Penn State at 7-3 with games at Iowa and Minnesota unaccounted for.

Like the Spartans, Minnesota is also scheduled to be coming off a bye — and has 17 returning starters. Give that one to the Golden Gophers. Iowa could be Clifford’s first start against a top-25 team on the road. It’s also one week before the biggest home game of the season: Michigan. The Hawkeyes beat the Nittany Lions for the first time since 2010 and Penn State finishes at 7-5.

Nate Cobler: 10-2

Offensive MVP: TE Pat Freiermuth

Defensive MVP: LB Micah Parsons

Breakout: RB Noah Cain

I feel as if Penn State is going to finish 10-2 because, yes, they’re a young offense — but they’re also incredibly talented.

The two losses will come against Michigan and Ohio State because, for as well as James Franklin has recruited, there’s still a slight talent disparity with those programs. According to 247 Sports, Penn State has not won the Big Ten recruiting battle over both schools in the same year since 2010.

This is a solid team and a great defense. But Penn State’s defense can’t make up for a talented-but-imperfect offense, which could cruise most of the season while still having problems against the nation’s elite. I see the Nittany Lions finishing right behind Michigan and Ohio State in the conference standings.

Josh Moyer earned his B.A. in journalism from Penn State and his M.S. from Columbia. He’s been involved in sports and news writing for nearly 20 years. He counts the best athlete he’s ever seen as Tecmo Super Bowl’s Bo Jackson.
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