Looking Ahead to the 2019 Season
Going into the 2019 season, the Nittany Lions have a lot of reason for optimism. Whether Penn State finishes with a win or loss in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky, the 2018 season was somewhat of a disappointment for a large portion of the fan base. Many Penn Staters believed that this team was a dark horse national championship contender, but with losses in back-to-back home games against Ohio State and Michigan State, those hopes were all but evaporated.
Nonetheless, there were some takeaways from the season that are very noteworthy. For instance, the play of the young wide receivers, and more specifically KJ Hamler, was certainly a bright spot. The talented upcoming sophomore duo of Jahan Dotson and Justin Shorter should also see an increased role.
Next year’s starting lineup will feature players that all have significant experience, and this wide receiving corps could be further bolstered if Juwan Johnson decides to return to school after a frustrating junior campaign. Incoming four-star recruit David Bell could add to what should be a solid group, assuming the drops are a thing of the past.
The running back depth chart should be loaded, to say the least. Junior Miles Sanders may be on the move to the NFL, but even if he should depart, former five-star Ricky Slade, who showed flashes in his freshman season, will be more than capable of filling his shoes. The speedy Journey Brown should be capable of spelling Slade when necessary.
The real question, however, comes at the quarterback position. Soon to be redshirt senior Tommy Stevens has been the presumptive starter for years to come in the wake of Trace McSorley’s success. However, talented redshirt freshman Sean Clifford won the hearts of countless Penn State fans with brief performances against Pitt and Kent State that were nothing short of spectacular at the beginning of the year.
It will be a competitive battle in the spring, and it may very well roll over into the summer months. If one had to guess who will win the job, it is likely to be the incumbent Stevens with all the time he’s put into the program. Not to mention, Stevens made a point of sticking around when he could’ve left to start at many other college programs.
In addition, this is Stevens’ last year of eligibility, and Clifford will have the job to himself for two years once Stevens graduates. That is, unless one of the highly touted recruits, such as Michael Johnson Jr. or Taquan Roberson, is capable of usurping Clifford. But this is all a discussion for next year’s Way-Too-Early Penn State Football Preview.
The defense, led by coordinator Brent Pry, improved dramatically throughout the 2018 season, and with potentially eight starters returning, this may be one of the best units in the country. Sophomore Yetur Gross-Matos opened some eyes this year on the defensive line, totaling eight sacks and 20 tackles for loss. While only a third-team All-Big Ten selection, expect Gross-Matos to improve upon an impressive sophomore campaign.
Penn State loses a starter in Koa Farmer from the linebacker corps, but freshman sensation Micah Parsons was the leading tackler on the team this year without ever starting a game, so he should make a seamless transition to a starting role next season and continue to grow.
Defensive end Shareef Miller would be a huge boost to the defensive line if he does decide to come back to school, and with cornerback John Reid back to form, there is no question that this unit will be among the conference, if not the nation’s best.
Some of Penn State’s greatest difficulties in 2019 may lie outside of the team itself. Instead, the schedule may be the Nittany Lions’ greatest enemy. A relatively easy beginning to the season should see Penn State coast to a 5-0 start, but with a road matchup with Iowa sure to be a night game, Nathan Stanley and the Hawkeyes will surely want revenge for this year’s thriller.
Not to mention, the Michigan Wolverines will come to town the week after, and it is possible the squad will be looking ahead to their own version of “The Revenge Tour”. Next on the slate will be a road trip to East Lansing against the Michigan State Spartans, a place that has proved an unwelcoming place to James Franklin and his staff.
A much-needed bye week will follow, but road matchups in Minneapolis against the Golden Gophers have never been favorable for Penn State. Finishing out the season with two home games against Indiana and Rutgers sandwiched around a heavyweight fight in Columbus with the Ohio State Buckeyes, it is sure to be a tough season.
The offense may have struggled at times in 2018, but it is entirely possible that with a new quarterback at the helm, this group may struggle more than expected. The defense should impress with so many returners, and it is entirely possible that with a fully intact defensive line, they may lead the country in sacks.
Nonetheless, this team may struggle. I anticipate losses to Iowa and Ohio State with a potential upset coming at the hands of Minnesota in what could be a trap game for Penn State. Another 9-3 season seems entirely possible, but I’ll side with optimism and predict 10-2 as Penn State’s final record.
Andrew Destin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.