Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, July 27, 2017
CHICAGO — Hunger. You?ve heard it a million times-it?s easy to get to the top, but it?s more difficult to stay there.
Will Penn State be complacent after winning the Big Ten and advancing to the Rose Bowl? Will it rest on its laurels? Are the Nittany Lions still hungry? You know the cliches.
This is an uber-talented Penn State squad that has the stuff to repeat. The offense could be the best in the Big Ten, led by Heisman-contending running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley. The line will be the school?s best in years. Plus, Mike Gesicki will be one of the Big Ten?s top tight ends. The defense has more issues, including developing pass rushers. But the high-powered offense should be able to cover any leaks the unit springs as it develops.
?A lot of good things going on now,? said Penn State coach James Franklin at this week's Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. ?There's an excitement in our community that I think - I think we all realize Penn State has an unbelievable fan base and tremendous support, but there's a buzz and excitement from the people that I've talked to that have been around for a long time that I haven't seen in a while."
Add it all up, and hopes are high in State College, Pa. Still, challenges loom.
Here are five issues the Nittany Lions must deal with if they want to win the Big Ten again:
1.Expectations. Entering last year, James Franklin was 14-12 overall and 6-10 in the Big Ten through his first two seasons. Prognosticators didn?t think this team had much of a chance to win the Big Ten East, let alone the Big Ten. Questions loomed at quarterback and on the offensive line, among other places. The point: Penn State was able to play pressure-free all season. Now, the world is expecting big things.
?I think the expectations are always pretty big at Penn State,? said Franklin. ?I think where it's probably changed is nationally. I think there's more people nationally talking about Penn State right now than probably in years past. But one of the reasons why we came here is because we love the expectations. We embrace those expectations as coaches.
?And I think the players, the same thing. They came to Penn State to be a part of this type of program that is working really, really hard to have a chance to compete for Big Ten Championships and have an opportunity to be a part of playoff conversations and hopefully make some strides there as well."
2. Wideout. Chris Godwin paced the Nittany Lions with 59 catches for 982 yards and 11 TDs. But he opted to turn pro. There are some good options at receiver in State College, including Saeed Blacknall, Juwan Johnson, DeAndre Thompson and DaeSean Hamilton, among others. But is there a star who can stretch the field to open room for Saquon Barkley?
?I think DaeSean Hamilton is a great example, a guy people aren't talking about enough in my opinion, two years ago leads the Big Ten in receptions,? said Franklin.
3. At Ohio State. Penn State won?t be an underdog often this season. But it probably will be when it plays in the Horseshoe vs. Ohio State on Oct. 28. The Nittany Lions may be able to beat the Buckeyes for a second time in a row if their offense is humming like it was last year. Does Ohio State have the firepower to keep up with the Penn State attack? But know this: The Nittany Lions haven?t beaten Ohio State in consecutive meetings since they joined the Big Ten. Penn State?s last back-to-back triumphs vs. Ohio State? In 1978 and 1980. And Buckeye coach Urban Meyer thinks this is his most talented team yet led by arguably the best defensive line in the nation.
4. Secondary. The unit suffered a big blow when star junior cornerback John Reid suffered a knee injury during spring practice. His status for 2017 remains murky. Reid could play this season. One guy who probably needs to step up is true freshman Lamont Wade, Penn State?s top 2017 recruit who arrived last winter.
5. Defensive ends. The program lost two good ends in Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Who will bring the heat off the edge? There are some enticing options, including Shareef Miller, Ryan Buchholz and Torrence Brown. There also are some youngsters to watch. It?s vital for PSU to get pressure to help the secondary.