The wait is almost over. The Penn State faithful spent a full season hoping to see the prized recruit take the field. Some clamored for the Clifford experiment to end early and to let Drew Allar take over as a true freshman. James Franklin chose to stick with his veteran quarterback, allowing the true freshman backup to instead learn behind someone who had been playing college football for a long time.
The coaches will tell you it’s an open competition between Allar and fellow sophomore Beau Pribula, but everyone expects Allar to be the starter come fall. That’s not to say Pribula isn’t good in his own right —he would probably start at plenty of other programs right now, but for the better part of a decade, the piece the Nittany Lions have been missing dearly is finally here: An elite quarterback that can do things physically that his predecessors simply couldn’t, with a football IQ that is, by all accounts, off the charts, and the luxury of acclimating himself to the college game without having to start from day one. All of that behind two phenomenal running backs, an offensive line that is finally no longer a liability, and a group of receivers hungry to prove they’re just as good as the trio of NFL draft picks before them.
About last season
You know how things went. Penn State, by some miracle, was holding on for dear life as they led Michigan by a point in the third quarter. Then, what everyone knew would happen happened. The team that could basically run at will finally did, and the Wolverines never looked back.
Two weeks later, the Lions found themselves in a similar position. A five-point, fourth quarter lead against Ohio State, holding on for dear life as the Buckeyes finally woke up and started pouring it on on both sides of the ball.
The Nittany Lions ran through the rest of the schedule like a hot knife runs through butter, beating every team not named Ohio State or Michigan by at least 10 points apiece (yes, Purdue fans, I’m aware). Solidifying themselves as the clear third best team in the conference. Good, great even, but not elite.
What’s in store for 2023
The Lions lost some players on both sides of the ball, the aforementioned Sean Clifford being one of the biggest losses. They also lost Parker Washington and Brenton Strange, but that’s about it for the offense. On defense, Joey Porter, Jr. Ji’Ayir Brown, and P.J. Mustipher were the biggest losses.
Penn State got a number of favorable returning decisions from draft-eligible players as well. The biggest of them all is Olu Fashanu, who was projected as a top-10 pick in the NFL draft as it is. Curtis Jacobs, another draft-eligible player, chose to return for one more season.
The majority of the other returning players are either not yet draft eligible (Nicholas Singleton, Kaytron Allen, Dani Dennis-Sutton) or are going into their third years this season (Kalen and Kobe King, Chop Robinson, Theo Johnson, Landon Tengwall). In other words, some of Penn State’s best players were quite young a season ago, and can only stand to get better in this next season.
The Lions get a reprieve from “season openers that are also Big Ten openers that are also road games” in 2023, as they instead host West Virginia to open 2023. They also get a reprieve from “bye week followed by a tough game, usually on the road” this season, instead playing UMass at home after their bye. The Lions also get all three of their West opponents in a row, as they travel to Illinois, come back home to face Iowa for the annual Whiteout, then travel to Northwestern the week after.
All in all, this schedule sets up pretty well. Two games separate Ohio State and Michigan, a gimme after the bye, and an overall non-conference schedule that is not hard by any means could be just what Penn State needs to position themselves as more than just the clear third.
Will it be enough to get over the hump? Well, that we shall see starting on September 2nd!