John Clark previews the Penn State 2020 Football season and looks at how they will fare in the new look schedule and what are the best bet to place on the team.
Penn State’s 2020 football season has a dramatically different outlook than it had just a few months ago due to the coronavirus pandemic. They will no longer play a 12-game schedule, erasing Kent State, Virginia Tech, and San Jose State from the schedule. Illinois has been added to the B1G exclusive schedule, setting up a 10-game season for the Lions. The other huge news for the Nittany Lions is that top 5 draft prospect Micah Parsons will be sitting out the season in preparation for the draft.
The linebacker position has depth for Penn State, meaning that the absence of Parsons might not be the end of the world. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of some key positions before we get to some bets to keep an eye on this season.
Shawn Clifford returns to the helm for the Nittany Lions this year bringing a complete season of starting experience. Clifford has proven that he can take a hit and make plays with his feet when necessary. His backup option will be Will ‘The Thrill’ Levis, who saw significant action last year against Ohio State when Clifford went down with an injury. Levis is more of a threat with his feet than his arms, but he can be a reliable backup option that has experience.
It might be hard to find another RB core that is better than this group in the entire NCAA let alone within the B1G. Journey Brown and Noah Cain will be the two-headed monster that surely spells trouble for opposing defensive units. Add in Devyn Ford who also saw significant playing time last year, and the options are endless for the Nittany Lions. Journey Brown finally got his breakout opportunity during the Cotton Bowl last year and rushed for over 200 yards to solidify his spot as RB1.
Wide Receivers & Tight Ends:
WR will arguably be the weakest position on the team. KJ Hamler departed the team after declaring for the draft and Justin Shorter & Mac Hippenhammer transferred away. This leaves Jahan Dotson as the clear #1 receiver heading into the season. Daniel George and Cam Sullivan-Brown will join him on the field, bringing much less experience and skill compared to some other teams in the B1G. Freshman John Dunmore will get a huge opportunity to shine, and fans will hope that Dunmore manages a better freshman season than Justin Shorter did.
Fans received excellent news when Pat Freiermuth announced he was returning for another season, and even better news when he recently announced he would not be sitting out the season. One of best TE’s in the nation, Freiermuth should bring some relief for Clifford in both a blocking and catching capacity. Zack Kuntz is the other TE that should see solid minutes on the field.
Micah Parsons announced he was sitting out this year to prepare for the NFL, leaving a big hole at the position for Penn State. Luckily, PSU is known as LBU for a reason, and there is plenty of talent left at the position. Brandon Smith, one of the highest touted recruits a year ago, showed bright spots in his debut season and will get a starting role this year. Ellis Brooks is another LB that had shining moments a year ago. Jesse Luketa will get significant playing time also. All three of these players appeared in all 13 games last season.
Cornerbacks & Safeties:
The positions that burnt the Nittany Lions too much at the end of the year a season ago will look to improve this year. It’s no secret to opposing teams that the deep ball can be very successful against Penn State. Tariq Castro-Fields, Marquis Wilson, Keaton Ellis, and Donovan Johnson will likely see the most time at CB for the Nittany Lions. Castro-Fields is the sole guy bringing a plethora of starting experience and is also one of the men that was often burnt in games last season.
Lamont Wade, Jonathan Sutherland, and Jaquan Brisker have proven to be valuable assets to the safety squad when they are in the right place at the right time. Lamont Wade vastly improved his game last year and should be a great leader for the defensive backfield.
The Nittany Lions are just fine when it comes to the kicking game. Jordan Stout broke records last year, consistently kicked touchbacks, and was a reliable man. Jake Pinegar is the other kicker who gets most of the PAT/FG duties, and has been a reliable option. Gone is punter Blake Gillikin, who could very well be replaced by Jordan Stout as he looks to pull double duty. Otherwise, punter Bradley King is on the roster and ready to make a splash.
BETS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
Penn State to win Big Ten Championship (+500)
Ohio State could very well be the only team standing in the way of a B1G championship for Penn State. QB Justin Fields made it clear that he intends to play this year which could further damage the Nittany Lions odds at winning the B1G. You can never count out Michigan either, who recently has mauled Penn State when hosing them in the early fall. Although Penn State has a favorable schedule this year, it will likely come down to a mid-November showdown between Penn State and Ohio State. Ohio State has -250 odds to win the B1G, making the teams first and second when it comes to who the favorite is.
Penn State to win National Championship (+5000)
Even as a huge fan of the Lions, I will be the first to admit that this is a stretch. The Nittany Lions have the tenth best odds in the NCAA to win the national championship. With much of the NCAA doing conference only games, it will be hard to get a feeling of how teams stack up against each other until bowl season comes. However, the odds are large enough where it is worth it to throw a couple bucks on Penn State and potentially earn a big payout.
With the season altering so much, there aren’t as many bets available as there typically might be in a season. The previous over/under win total was 9.5, but now that there are only 10 games, those bets are nonexistent. The COVID-19 pandemic has left many wondering whether the season will even be completed. Can these players manage to stay safe when they consistently surround themselves with 40,000 classmates? It’s up for debate at this point if the season will even get started on time let alone finish in January. Regardless, Penn State looks primed for success in what was supposed to be their best chance at making the playoffs since its inception.