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Behind Enemy Lines: Preseason preview of the Penn State Nittany Lions

Our friends at Black Shoe Diaries provide an overview of Penn State football ahead of the 2020 season

Penn State vs Maryland football 2019 Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

With Big Ten football set to return to play on the weekend of Oct. 24, each conference member’s SB Nation site came together to preview their own program heading into the 2020 season. Each blog filled out a questionnaire to give insight, and Testudo Times will go through each game on Maryland football’s schedule.

Today, we take a look at the Terrapins’ week three opponent, the Penn State Nittany Lions, with the help of Jared Slanina of Black Shoe Diaries.

Key departures

KJ Hamler- WR, Yetur Gross-Matos-DE, Micah Parsons- LB, Ricky Rahne-OC

Key returnees

Journey Brown-RB, Sean Clifford-QB, Shaka Toney-DE, Pat Freiermuth-TE

Freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact

KeAndre Lambert Smith-WR, Parker Washington-WR, Curtis Jacobs-LB Lance Dixon-LB

Brief overview of 2020 team

Penn State returns its starting quarterback, 4 of 5 offensive lineman (with the new starter with extensive playing time under his belt), a stable of talented backs led by Journey Brown and only one wide receiver with any practical experience. It will be crucial for at least two young wideouts to emerge early in the season and for Sean Clifford to quickly build a rapport with them as KJ Hamler is no longer around to bail out the offense like he did so often the last two seasons.

The strength of the defense will be the linebackers, even with the departure of Micah Parsons. The defensive line returns plenty of talent and should be deeper than in recent years, but will need to get after the quarterback with more consistency throughout the season. The secondary was exposed toward the end of the season and could again be a liability against opponents with a quality quarterback.

Team’s biggest strength?

A stable of talented running backs guided by a veteran offensive line.

Team’s biggest weakness?

A lack of experience at wide receiver.

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?

The fanbase is largely happy with what James Franklin has done in Happy Valley, especially getting the program consistently in the top 10 and winning a Big Ten championship well ahead of schedule. The biggest questions are if he can ever get past Ohio State on a regular basis (tall order) and if those disturbing fourth quarter collapses in big games is behind him. With that being said, there is a vocal minority who think that the he should be fired, every player cut, and the stadium torn down every time they lose a game - or heck, don’t win by 40+ points.

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

I’ll go with tight end Pat Freiermuth, who has an excellent shot at being a first-team All-American and winner of the Mackey Award. He will play an even more essential role as Penn State works to break in several inexperienced wide receivers.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss

7-1, win them all but Ohio State. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if they lose at Indiana, where they always seem to be stuck in slow motion, or drop one against Iowa or Michigan, who they play in back-to-back weeks.

What else should we know about your team this year?

Penn State is set up for success more so than the last two seasons, but it will be a moot point if they cannot get past Ohio State for the first time since 2016.