Great news, for the first time in a generation, 2020 is shaping up to be THE YEAR for your Penn State Nittany Lions. Nothing anyone says will convince me we are not a team of destiny.
In an effort to give you, the "reader", the journalistic honesty you come to expect from Off Tackle Empire, I'll strive to tell you how I see the 2020 season unfolding when I write it.
2019 Review: Not Bad, Not Bad At All.
11 wins is something one should never take for granted. Not all the wins were comfortable blowouts, of course. College football wouldn't even be fun if our teams just played Maryland 12 times. A win is a win, though, and Penn State had plenty.
Idaho and Buffalo garnered the expected results, and were good opportunities for new QB Sean Clifford to polish his game. The offense tuned up overall, as nine different players crossed the goal line in the first two games, freshman running back Noah Cain scoring three total TDs.
The defense shined bright, as well, and continued to do so through the September 14th game against Pitt. 372 yards passing against sounds more than respectable, but the leading Pitt rusher finished with 9 yards on the ground, and the Panthers could only manage 10 points.
That brings us to the aforementioned Maryland Massacre. Riding moderately high after pantsing the Howard Bison (both singular form), upsetting then #21 Syracuse, and losing close to Temple Tough, the Terps got to showcase their hostile environment on Friday night. Classes were cancelled for the big matchup, and apparently so was the Maryland student section, as Lions faithful briefly invaded the unoccupied space.
A relatively easy Purdue victory followed, with Pat Friermuth hauling in another touchdown and starting to gain steam as the country's best TE. Then came the first game everyone dreads, Iowa hosted a night game. Kinnick at Nite is never fun, and this one was no different. Clifford threw 12/24 for a measly 117 yards, with one TD to a KJ Hamler willing to sacrifice his skinny body leaping into the endzone. A win is a win, though.
Workmanlike victories versus Michigan and at Michigan State brought the Lions to 8-0, with seemingly only tOSU standing between them and another conference championship appearance. Failing to account for the unrestrained enthusiasm at Minnesota, even after a bye week that should have focused on it specifically, led to the first loss of the year. Then Gopher Offensive Coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca called a magnificent game, executed to perfection by somebody named Marlon Tanner. Or maybe it's spelled Marlin, like the fish. Either way, Tanner threw 18/20 for 339 yards and 3 TDs, the Gophers never trailed, and they held on late against a desperation drive.
A good win against a resurgent Indiana, and the Lions were once again put to the test, this time at Ohio State. Hanging around against one of the absolute best teams in the country was all they could do. Will Levis stepped in admirably for the injured Clifford, and nobody ever thought of this game again.
A meh finale against an overmatched Rutger, and the Nittany Lions awaited their bowl selection. For the third time in four years, Penn State was headed to a NY6 bowl, this time against the passing attack of upset-minded Memphis Tigers in the "Cotton Bowl" Presented by AT&T, Played in the Jerry Jones Memorial MegaSterile Emporium. Micah Parsons would prove to be a genetic freak, racking up 14 tackles (7 solo), 2 sacks, 3 TFL, and 2 passes defended. Not a marquee opponent, but a NY6 win is a NY6 win.
2020 Preview: We've got this
Hails and Farewells
DE Yetur Gross-Matos, WR KJ Hamler, CB John Reid, LB Cam Brown, and DT Robert Windsor were all drafted to the NFL, along with six other teammates who signed undrafted contracts. James Franklin has shown his ability to reload in recruiting, and until proven otherwise, Defensive Coordinator Brent Pry will continue to get the best from his players.
Gone is the fifth leading rusher and former 5 star recruit, Ricky Slade, who has transferred to Old Dominion Monarchs, reuniting with departed Offensive Coordinator Ricky Rahne, who has taken over the Monarchs in his first head coaching stop. We wish the best of luck to both gentlemen in their endeavors.
Replacing Rahne is none other than Kirk Ciarrocca, formerly the Penn State defeating OC at Minnesota. If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em. DL coach and lead Wild Dog Sean Spencer left for the same position at the New York Football Giants, a small step up, certainly. No doubt Spence will be successful there. He is replaced by John Scott, Jr., formerly at South Carolina and presumably the son of John Scott, Sr. WR coach Gerad Parker has left for West Virginia after just one season, replaced by Taylor Stubblefield, who played for Joe Tiller's Purdue Boilermakers. OL Coach Matt Limegrover is off to his safety school of Michigan, with Phil Trautwein taking the reins. Coming off of two successful years at Boston College, Trautwein has the least experience of the new hires.
While the 2020 schedule is up in the air, we do KNOW that there will be no OOC games and ten conference games. Let's take a deeper look.
@ Yet To Be Named - The Lions need a tenth B1G game, it will be at a B1G West foe. Since the Lions were at Minnesota last year, it is not likely to be them, so that leaves Wisconsin, Illinois, or Purdue. Know what? Give me any of them, or a rematch at Minnesota. Ain't scared. Penn State is 12-1 including a CCG win vs the B1G Werst since 2016. WE ARE going 5-0 against them this year.
Northwestern - This is a win, just too many weapons on the Penn State offense, defense, and special teams.
@ Michigan - Harbaugh has to finish fourth in the East, this gets him well on his way.
BYE - Everyone stays out of trouble, Penn State breezed through with a draw.
Iowa - No Kinnick Magic, Ferentz retires on a seven game losing streak to the Lions.
Ohio State - Ryan Day can't handle a hostile crowd, but is relieved to know he doesn't have to lose to Clemson this year.
@ Indiana - A close win, but a win is a win.
@ Nebraska - Scott Frost is fired after this embarrassing loss, thousands of red balloons get popped on the way to the parking lot.
Michigan State - Ugly, close win. Sparty regains all the traits people hate about playing them.
Maryland - The Terps' interim coach can't get any traction, and just looks forward to the end of the year.
@ Rutger- Greg Schiano shocks the world and only loses by 10!
Tailgate DOs and DON'Ts
When talking to a Penn State fan, DO mention: Social distancing (please. This is actually important), the White Out, Micah Parsons, Linebacker U, Running back stable, Offensive Line being a strength
DON'T mention: Offensive Line 20 year history, Wide receiver corps, Transfer portal