The 3 best defenses the Penn State Nittany Lions will face in 2024

Andy Kotelnicki was brought in to improve the Penn State offense for Drew Allar, but the Nittany Lions could still have some trouble with these three teams on their Big Ten schedule.
Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Jack Sawyer (33) can't get to Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15)
Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Jack Sawyer (33) can't get to Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) / Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA

In 2023, Penn State had arguably the best defense in the entire country. It was so good that Manny Diaz got another chance as a head coach, heading to Duke to replace Mike Elko, and despite losing plenty of key pieces to the NFL, is returning plenty of talent to succeed under new defensive coordinator Tom Allen. 

Instead of the defense with Abdul Carter, Dani Dennis-Sutton, and Kevin Winston Jr. James Franklin, outside of adding two SEC transfers at cornerback, mostly focused his offseason efforts on fixing the offense for his second-year starting quarterback Drew Allar. 

Franklin brought in Andy Kotelnicki, an innovative offensive coordinator from Kansas, and grabbed Julian Fleming off Ohio State’s roster for his final year of eligibility to be Allar’s top target. While Penn State will be favored almost every week and the defense can carry the Nittany Lions, the offense will need to prove itself against these three opponents on the schedule. 

. team. . . . . . 493. Wisconsin. 3

Mike Tressel took over the Wisconsin defense in 2023 and while the team went 7-6, he was pretty successful on that side of the football. The Badgers finished top 40 in total defense and 25th in yards per play while allowing just 20.2 points a game. 

Coming off a trip to USC, the Nittany Lions will find themselves in Madison on October 26, and it will be the first big test for the Penn State offense, one week before the Ohio State game at Beaver Stadium. 

Maryland. . . . 2. 439. . . .

Defensive numbers in the Big Ten can be a bit misleading because it’s not exactly an explosive brand of football being played by most of the teams in the conference. Still, Maryland’s defensive numbers from 2023 are impressive, finishing 14th in yards per play allowed and 20th in yards per rush. 

Mike Locksley’s group, however, lost a lot of talent from that defense, namely defensive backs Tarheeb Still, Beau Brade, and Corey Coley Jr. Still, the Music City Bowl win over Auburn was proof of the depth of talent in College Park as the Terps beat Auburn 31-13. 

In the secondary, Perry Fisher, Mykel Morman, and Kevis Thomas will play big roles after mostly serving as backups until bowl season. Up front, Quashon Fuller and Donnel Brown, the team’s two leaders in pressures from 2023, are both back to lead the pass rush. 

OSU. . . . team. . 1. 490. .

The Ohio State Buckeyes were one of the best teams in college football in 2023, led by an incredibly stout defense. Yet, Ryan Day’s team only lost four players to the NFL draft and two of those were on the offensive side of the ball, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Cade Stover. 

Ohio State, which finished third in total defense, second in yards per play, and first against the pass under Jim Knowles, brought back JT Tuimolau, Jack Sawyer, and Tyleik Williams up front, held onto Denzel Burke, Davison Igbinosun, Sonny Styles, and Lathan Ransom in the second, and added Caleb Downs in the transfer portal. 

Downs was the best freshman in the country at Alabama last season, playing a team-high 890 snaps for the Crimson Tide and finishing with 107 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and three pass breakups. The Buckeyes could very well have the best defense in the entire country in 2024 and will be a nightmare for Drew Allar and Penn State to try and solve.

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