Way too early 2021 top 25: Where does Penn State Football rank?

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin (Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)
Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin (Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports) /

The crazy and unprecedented 2020 college football season is over, officially closing the book on one of the most disappointing years in Penn State Football history.

Alabama’s 52-24 pounding of Ohio State in Monday’s National Championship capped off a season unlike any we’d seen before.

Now that the 2020 is season over, all eyes officially turn to 2021.

ESPN got an early start on the 2021 campaign, when they dropped their early preseason rankings. The Nittany Lions checked in at 22 on that list.


Others gave their opinions as well. 247 Sports had the Nittany Lions at 17, while Brett McMurphy of Stadium had Penn State all the way up at 10.

Some may see it as surprise that the Nittany Lions would be ranked headed into 2021 based on the brutal 4-5 season that just occurred.

Penn State returns all of their 2020 offensive production except Pat Freiermuth. Running back Noah Cain should also be healthy after missing practically the entire season. The secondary got a boost when Jaquan Brisker and Tariq Castro-Fields both announced they will return next season; along with Johnny Dixon transferring in. They also added Derrick Tangelo and Arnold Ebiketie to fill holes on the defensive line. All of Penn State’s linebackers return as well.

James Franklin also decided to make a change at offensive coordinator and bring in Mike Yurcich, a quarterback guru who led impressive Oklahoma State offenses from 2013-2018, and Texas this past season. Questions still remain at quarterback, but it’s worth pointing out that we are a year removed from Sean Clifford leading an 11-2 Penn State squad.

The team also did end the season on a four game winning streak, something that experts do look at when creating the next season’s rankings. We can also debate the call made at the end of the Indiana game all day, and how it drastically changed the season.

Penn State could still make additions via the transfer portal, including at quarterback, and we are still waiting on word if offensive tackle Rasheed Walker will return. If those two things happen, there’s even more reason for optimism with this squad.

While trying to figure out where to place Penn State in the rankings, a lot of factors had to be looked at. First off, a 4-5 team should never really find themselves in the top 15 for the next season. Secondly, how good is everyone else going to be? Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson all lose their starting quarterback, but all three have a 5-star back up. Iowa and Indiana return a lot of talent, including their quarterbacks, although Michael Penix is currently dealing with an ACL tear. Plenty of other schools, most notably Iowa State and North Carolina return their quarterbacks and other impact players.

To me, ESPN’s ranking of Penn State at 22 seems fair. I have them slightly higher, at 20. 247’s and McMurphy’s rankings are exciting, but I’m going on the cautious side.

  1. Alabama Crimson Tide
  2. Clemson Tigers
  3. Oklahoma Sooners
  4. Ohio State Buckeyes
  5. Georgia Bulldogs
  6. North Carolina Tar Heels
  7. Texas A&M Aggies
  8. Iowa State Cyclones
  9. USC Trojans
  10. Oregon Ducks
  11. Iowa Hawkeyes
  12. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
  13. Indiana Hoosiers
  14. Washington Huskies
  15. Cincinnati Bearcats
  16. Florida Gators
  17. Ole Miss Rebels
  18. Texas Longhorns
  19. Wisconsin Badgers
  20. Penn State Nittany Lions
  21. Miami Hurricanes
  22. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
  23. Liberty Flames
  24. Northwestern Wildcats
  25. Costal Carolina Chanticleers

Teams just outside: Boston College, Michigan, Auburn, LSU, Tulsa, Utah.

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