Penn State football 2023 preview: College Football Playoff, Heisman, Top Three Defense?

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22: A general view of the stadium as fireworks explode before the White Out game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Beaver Stadium on October 22, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22: A general view of the stadium as fireworks explode before the White Out game between the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Beaver Stadium on October 22, 2022 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Penn State football has the highest expectations since after the 2016 season.

What will Penn State’s record be?

Will Drew Allar become a Heisman candidate?

Will the receiving group have a better year than people are expecting?

Will Singleton and Allen both rush for 1,000 yards?

Will this defense rank in the top 3 of all of college football?

Let’s start with the record prediction, the ceiling, the floor, and my actual prediction.

According to ESPN FPI, the Lions are set to go 10-2 with the two losses coming from, you guessed it, (at) Ohio State (11.6% of victory)  and Michigan (46.9% of victory.)

Many see the ceiling a little differently than ESPN’s FPI rankings.

Penn State’s ceiling is 12-0 as they have the talent on paper to take down every single opponent and clearly football fans, outside of Penn State fans, see their potential.

So what is Penn State’s floor?

10-2 is the popular choice for the Lions floor in 2023, with losses to Michigan and Ohio State as set by ESPN’s FPI.

Although 10-2 with losses to the two toughest teams in the Big Ten shouldn’t be upsetting, well it would be, but why?

Penn State hasn’t beaten Ohio State since 2016 and Penn State has lost to Michigan for two years in a row last beating them in 2020.

Penn State fans urge for a year where they beat at least one of these teams and have a chance to go 11-1 and get to the College Football Playoff.

My unbiased prediction for Penn State this year is 11-1.

It’s hard not to say I want 12-0 and that we will roll through every team, but college football is unpredictable.

Between upsets, injuries, or flat-out getting outplayed by the opposition.

So who’s that one loss to?

Make your pick, does Penn State walk into the Shoe and beat Ohio State and lose at Beaver Stadium against Michigan or does Penn State lose in the Shoe, but win one in November in front of a sold-out home crowd?

I would rather win at home against Michigan in November and here’s why.

The Lions will walk into Ohio State on October 21 and can afford a close loss and I mean close as in seven points or less.

Even if Penn State loses to Ohio State, they should remain in the top ten and heading into the Michigan game in November will probably have a chance to take down a top-three team, boosting their playoff chances.

Can Allar be in the Heisman discussion come season’s end?

Allar came out of high school as the number one quarterback in his class as a five-star, according to 247Sports.

Expectations are high on the season and they are just as high for Allar heading into his sophomore year.

We saw glimpses of what Allar can bring to the table when he got the chance to play a few snaps last year.

Allar played in ten games last season with 60 pass attempts and completed 35 of those passes for 344 yards and 4 touchdowns.

He also used his legs 18 times for a total of 52 yards rushing and 1 touchdown.

The only question that people have is the wide receivers.

This wide receiver group added transfers this offseason, one being Dante Cephas from Kent State and another being Malik McClain from Florida State.

Not to mention the receivers already at Penn State in Kaden Saunders, Omari Evans, Liam Clifford, Harrison Wallace III, and KeAndre Lambert-Smith.

Lambert-Smith is the sure receiver one on paper last season he had 24 receptions for 389 yards and four touchdowns.

But Evans is a sleeper, he’s quick and can get behind a defense as shown in one play against Ohio.

Not only was this Evans’s first touchdown, but it was also Allar’s first touchdown.

These two formed a connection and I believe while most defenses will be focused on Lambert-Smith and Cephas, Evans will lead this receiving group in catches by year’s end.

Of course, what would Penn State be without tight ends?

Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren will be the featured tight ends, but Jerry Cross will get playing time after being redshirted last season.

Johnson had 20 catches for 328 yards, and four touchdowns while Warren had ten catches for 123 yards and three touchdowns.

Adding Cross to these two will just add another weapon for Allar to target.

Cross was a four-star tight end out of Wisconsin who joined Penn State in the 2022 class.

My prediction for Allar is worthy of being a Heisman candidate and being one of the best in college football.

In 2023, Allaer will attempt 415 passes completing 301 of those for over 3,500 yards and 28 touchdowns. That’s a completion percentage of 72.5

So now we covered the passing game but what about the running game?

What’s there not to like about the running game, the Lions bring back both Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen and have a loaded amount of talent behind them in case of emergency.

Let’s focus on Allen and Singleton though.

Last season both Allen and Singleton totaled 1,000 plus yards for the season.

Allen rushed for 867 yards and had 188 receiving yards with a total of 11 touchdowns while Singleton had 1,061 rushing yards and only 85 receiving yards with a total of 13 touchdowns.

Both running backs could win awards by season end and lead the country in total yards, but it’s not all about the running backs when it comes to the running game.

The offensive line has returned all their lineman except their center Juice Scruggs who was drafted by the Houston Texans in the second round in the 2023 NFL draft.

Why is this so important? Experience is huge for a line and not only experience but chemistry.

This line knows each other and knows how each one plays, this leads to trust for the whole line.

The biggest name to return is Olu Fashanu.

Fashanu had a chance to put his name into the 2023 NFL draft and was projected to be drafted in the first round and possibly be a top-ten pick, but instead, he decided to return to Penn State.

The only question for the line is left guard and center.

The left guard will most likely be Landon Tengwall who started five games last season before suffering a season-ending injury.

Tengwall was a four-star offensive tackle and was selected as the Offensive Player of the Game against Auburn by the coaching staff.

Tengwal has the most to prove but given the experience this line returns he will only improve even after missing most of last season.

So who replaces Scruggs at center?

Hunter Nourzad seems to be making the move to center from guard.

Nourzad appeared in 11 games last season playing mostly guard, but also played a little center, in those 11 games he started 8 of them.

Although he didn’t play in all 13 games for Penn State, he still was named to the All-Big Ten honorable mention by both the coaches and media.

The offense may have the most questions to be answered but that should be a good thing as a fantastic Manny Diaz-led defense is set to explode this season.

But will this defense be a top-three defense in the country?

Manny Diaz decided to stay with Penn State as their defensive coordinator instead of accepting a head coaching gig this offseason.

This defense returns names such as Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, Abdul Carter, Curtis Jacobs, Kalen King, Keaton Ellis, and more.

This defensive line will put fear into quarterbacks when they drop back to pass and will make offensive coordinators scared to run the ball.

Robinson transferred to Penn State from Maryland in 2022 and appeared in 12 games for the Lions in 2022 where he had 26 total tackles with 19 of them being solo, 5.5 sacks, and 10 tackles for a loss.

In 2023, expect Robinson to have more sacks, but more importantly, the amount of quarterback hurries will increase as he had three last season.

Offenses will need to stop both edge rushers but they cannot forget about the inner defensive lineman.

Dvon Ellies and Hakeem Beamon are both redshirt seniors this season and both played in all 13 games last season.

In 2022, Beamon had 16 total tackles and 7.5 tackles for losses while Ellies had 15 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 tackles for losses.

Add these for linemen with the linebackers and teams will not want to run the ball, but they may try.

If the running back breaks through the line, Carter, Jacobs, and Elsdon will be waiting.

After Micah Parsons got drafted, Carter took over the number 11 and made it proud. Some would say it’s like Parsons never left.

Carter was all over the field in 2022 having 56 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss and this is all during his freshman year.

Expect Carter to have another fantastic year possibly upping all those numbers from 2022.

But if teams focus too much on Carter, then Jacobs will be waiting.

Jacobs had just 4 fewer tackles than Carter, but he had 7 sacks and 15 tackles for loss.

This linebacker group is fast, strong, and menous to any offense trying to pound the rock or drop back to pass.

If teams decide to stop running and pass the ball, Kalen King and this secondary are ready to be ball hawks.

Basically reading the receiver’s routes before they run them, King is expected to be a first-round draft pick in 2024.

Quarterbacks have to place the ball perfectly or King will just add to the three interceptions and 26 passes defended from last season.

Just like the linebackers and linemen, the secondary can be just as scary if you throw away from King.

Johnny Dixon will be the cornerback on the other side of the King and yes he’s not King, but he has elite talent at the position.

Dixon had two interceptions and 14 passes defended last season.

Last, but certainly not least for this Penn State defense, the safeties.

Waiting in the very back of the defense are Keaton Ellis and Jaylen Reed.

Ellis was named captain this offseason and is set to have another big year.

In 2022, Ellis had 24 tackles and seven passes defended while Reed had 31 tackles, three pass breakups, and two tackles for losses.

While those numbers seem low that’s because everyone in front of them is doing their jobs.

Diaz is aggressive, blitzing a ton leaving the corners to cover one-on-one against the receivers and the safeties to cover the tight ends and slot, but the blitz usually results in a rushed throw or a sack.

This defense will be competing for a top-three spot in the county along with teams like Alabama, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, and others.

The only thing to add is are you ready for Penn State football?