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Closing Arguments: Penn State Nittany Lions

The Nittany Lions are poised for a bounce back season!

Sixth-year senior quarterback Sean Clifford smiles as he talks about one of his teammates standing in front of him during an interview at Penn State football media day in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, August 6, 2022 Dan Rainville / USA TODAY NETWORK

At long last, we’re finally here! Football has already been played, and week 1 is imminent! This here article will mark the conclusion of B1G 2022’s team-by-team analysis, and, in this “writer’s” humble opinion, I don’t think there’s a better way to end it all than with your favorite Nittany Lions!

I. Case History & Opening Statement

People of the jury, your honor, let us walk down the memory lane that is Penn State football in recent memory. The Nittany Lions have seen both great success and unenviable failure in the past six seasons, and deciphering which of these are the true Nittany Lions may require a deeper dive.

So let’s dive in!

A. Case History

There are a few kinds of recent history. The immediate recency, which includes last season, saw the Nittany Lions start on fire, winning their first five games, en route to a No. 4 ranking by the middle of the season. Quarterback Sean Clifford’s top-10 QBR leading to “the fateful encounter” masked a total inability to run the ball, which came on full display when the Lions had to rely on anything other than Clifford himself to make the offense happen. Worse yet, having no Clifford exposed the Lions’ lack of proven depth at the quarterback position, as replacement Ta’Quan Roberson look severely overmatched in relief duties.

From there, Penn State struggled to the finish line, as he never really did recover from his injury, doing the best he could to will Penn State to victory. Two of those in the remaining six games, and the Lions limped to the finish line.

There is a second kind of recent history, one where the 2020 season is included in the mix, which puts the spotlight on Penn State’s 11-11 record in the past two season. Pay no mind that the darling of 2020 won no conference games this past season. Pay no mind that a similar, Big Ten Title winning team had a worse 2020 record, and were themselves 11-8 in the two seasons prior to their title run, or the fact that they were also installing a new offensive coordinator in 2020, which didn’t go that well due to difficulties interacting with humans in person. The reality of the matter is, regardless of mitigating circumstances, the Nittany Lions are who they are leading into this upcoming season.

B. Opening Statement

People of the jury, your honor, I am here to show you that there in fact is yet a third form of recent history to pull from. This recent history dates back a little further than the past two seasons, and it includes three 11-win seasons, coupled with two NY6 wins out of the three appearances.

Moreover, Penn State’s recruiting trajectory, with the exception of 2020, is also on an upward trajectory, culminating in the 2022 recruiting class. People of the jury, I posit that, the past two seasons were indeed the anomaly, and not the four seasons that preceded them. And, as a result, I expect that 2022 will see itself go back to that trajectory, instead of what we’ve experienced as extenuating circumstances the past two season.

II. Discovery

A. Previously Presented Evidence

B. New Evidence

Reports from Penn State’s camp have indicated a couple of encouraging developments:

  1. The three transfers —Mitchell Tinsley, Hunter Nourzad, and Chop Robinson, have all been as good as advertised. Nourzad has been practicing at north guard spots, and could be the kind of swiss army knife on the offensive line Penn State has needed for the better part of five years.
  2. The freshman stars are poised to play early. Dani Dennis-Sutton, Kaytron Allen, and Nick Single ton will all see playing time early and often. Prized quarterback Drew Allar has performed so well he’s already been named the backup behind Sean Clifford.
  3. Linebacker, Penn State’s biggest question mark behind the offensive line, is coming into form. Tyler Elsdon seems to have secured the middle linebacker spot, at least for the time being, because the freshman linebackers may find themselves playing key roles as the season progresses.
  4. Depth is headed back in the right direction. The last two seasons, with medical departures and opt-outs, left the Nittany Lions unevenly thin at certain spots. Having a recruiting classes full of players who can contribute early (let’s call this the Zane Durant award) helps mitigate the issues presented.

With this new information, it becomes easier to see that Penn State could be poised to a return to previous form.

III. Schedule of Events

Penn State Football Schedule: Purdue (September 1), Ohio (September 10), Auburn (September 17), Central Michigan (September 24), Northwestern (October 1), Michigan (October 15), Minnesota (October 22), Ohio State (October 29), Indiana (November 5), Maryland (November 12), Rutgers (November 19), Michigan State (November 26)

Penn State’s road to redemption, if there is one in 2022, starts off with a challenging game against the surging Purdue Boilermakers. The Boilers came off a nine-wins season a year ago, where quarterback Aiden O’Connell turned heads by being one of the best in the Big Ten. Did you know? Penn State has started Big Ten play on the road 12 out of the last 13 seasons, and is slated to do so nine straight times if the 2023 schedules remain intact.

Outside of that environment, the Nittany Lions also travel to Auburn in week 3. By the time Penn State reaches the meat of the conference schedule, they would have already traveled to two tough environments. Were they to come out of that unscathed, they would have ample preparation for what’s to come.

After one game, Northwestern looks like it’s in even year form. After a bye week, Michigan, the darling of the media coming off their playoff season, awaits, looking to prove that last year was not the anomaly. This starts a three week stretch where the Lions will play the aforementioned wolverines, a Minnesota team many are saying can win the West, and the quintessential king of the hill in Ohio State. Survive that stretch, and the rest should be smooth sailing.

IV. Emotional Plea

People of the jury, your honor, I implore you to look at the evidence, the full evidence and come to the conclusion that should be evident: A global pandemic, a [fake] injury at the most inopportune time, and a woefully unprepared quarterback proved just the perfect combination of random events happening in sequence.

That Nittany Lions have proven they can play with the best of the conference, and they can do it again this season. So I ask you, look not at what happened in the past, but look at what’s to come in the future! A quarterback with ample experience, and the tutelage of the same offensive coordinator for the first time in his career. A five-star waiting in the wings in case things go south. A stable of running backs that have garnered buzz all around the program. And, most importantly, an offensive line that, maybe for the first time in James Franklin’s tenure, is not being spoken about as a liability.

This is all coupled with a defense that doesn’t lack for star power, even if it brings its own question marks along with it. But, if we’ve learned anything about Penn State under Franklin, it’s that the defense is not usually the issue.

V. Verdict

Penn State record predictions: Average 8-4 record.

People of the jury, the results are in. Most believe the Nittany Lions will improve on its record from last season, with the supporters believing a little bit more than everyone else.

Very Truly Yours,