Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, December 19, 2017
Penn State had a playoff-caliber team in 2017, but it came up short in losing two games by a combined four points in what otherwise was a glorious 10-2 campaign. This season stings a bit more when you consider Penn State missed the playoff last season even though it won the Big Ten championship. James Franklin continues to push this program to the brink of big things.
Once again, Penn State has a prolific offense that is No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring (41.6 ppg) and No. 2 overall (453.3 ypg). Trace McSorley is a dynamic signal-caller who is consensus second-team All-Big Ten and is No. 1 in the Big Ten in total offense with 3,659 yards (304.9 ypg). McSorley is also No. 1 in the league in passing with 3,228 yards (269.0 ypg) and 26 TDs, hitting 65 percent of his passes. Running back Saquon Barkley is All-Big Ten by the coaches and media. Tight end Mike Gesicki is a first-team pick by the media. Other standouts are wideout DaeSean Hamilton and tackle Ryan Bates. But coordinator Joe Moorhead has packed his bags to take the head coaching job at Mississippi State. Franklin wasted no time in promoting Ricky Rahne to the spot.
The Penn State defense did its part this fall, too. S Marcus Allen is the bellwether, earning All-Big Ten accolades from the coaches. Linebacker Jason Cabinda, end Shareef Miller and corner Amani Oruwariye also garnered postseason honors.
Record: 10-2 overall; 7-2 Big Ten/T2nd East
Bowl: Fiesta vs. Washington
High point: Win at Iowa. Penn State sprinted out of the gates by starting 7-0, and its dramatic 21-19 victory in Iowa City was the highlight. The Nittany Lions scored the game-winning TD on the final play of the contest with Juwan Johnson making a seven-yard scoring grab as time expired. A 42-13 win vs. Michigan also was noteworthy, as the Nittany Lions got payback for their 49-10 loss in Ann Arbor in 2016. The matchup between Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown went to Moorhead.
Low point: Loss at Ohio State. The Nittany Lions were 7-0 and ranked No. 2 when they arrived in Columbus to play Ohio State. Penn State built a 35-20 lead entering the fourth quarter. But the Buckeyes outscored the Nittany Lions, 19-3, in the fourth quarter, tallying the game-winning TD with 1:48 to go. It was a killer defeat for Penn State, which followed that by losing 27-24 at Michigan State the next week, effectively putting the kibosh on East Division title hopes.
Offensive MVP: RB Saquon Barkley. He won the Silver Football as the Big Ten MVP, leading the league in all-purpose yards with 2,154 (179.5 ypg) and ranking fourth in rushing with 1,134 yards. Barkley showed his versatility on kickoff returns, running back two for scores. The 5-11, 230-pound junior also leads the league in scoring with 126 points.
Defensive MVP: S Marcus Allen. A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches, the 6-2, 207-pound senior is second on the team in tackles with 65. He also has four TFLs with a sack and interception. The team captain is just the sixth Nittany Lion to reach the 300-tackle mark in a career. Allen ranks No. 6 on Penn State?s career tackles chart with 310 stops.