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Closing Arguments: Penn State Nittany Lions

The Nittany Lions bounced back. Can they now get over the hump?

Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin speaks in a press conference after defeating the Utah Utes in the 109th Rose Bowl game at the Rose Bowl. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just like last season, closing arguments for your Penn State Nittany Lions comes after football has already been played. Unlike last season, however, this here article will not mark the end of the closing arguments for the 2023 season, which is sad, if you ask me.

I. Case History & Opening Statement

Your honor, people of the jury, last season we engaged in this activity, in which I, your humble servant, argued that Penn State would bounce back in a big way. After the Nittany Lions delivered a Rose Bowl victory to end the season, the promise of that bounce back was completed. Now, I come to you to make the argument for an even better year.

So let’s dive in!

A. Case History

Penn State’s biggest weakness in 2021 was its inability to run the football. They relied on Sean Clifford to carry the offense, for the most part he did, until he didn’t. His injury in the Iowa game revealed the issues with the offense, which derailed a promising season.

In 2022, Penn State went and resolved its biggest issue on offense. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen became the first true freshman tandem in Big Ten history to eclipse 700 rushing yards in a season. The other glaring weakness, the offensive line, became one of the strengths of the offense. Clifford, in his sixth and final season, threw the ball more than 30 times four times. In 2021, he needed 30+ passes in nine of the 13 games he played. In four of those, he needed over 40! The offense looked completely different, and having effective line play and two standout running backs were a big part of it.

The Nittany Lions’ two blemishes on their record came against the two teams who made the College Football Playoff. The Lions had leads in the second half against both teams, but in one of those games everyone watching knew it was only a matter of time. In the other, all the mistakes the Lions avoided in the first three quarters came back to bite them in the 4th.

B. Opening Statement

People of the jury, a year ago, I opened by arguing that Penn State would go back to their previous history of winning. I made a herculean effort to convince you that, yes, Penn State would be good in 2022!

This season, I don’t have to convince you they will be good. The case I’ll be making to you, is that the Nittany Lions are not as far off from those two College Football Playoff teams as you may believe.

The Lions bring back a bulk of their defense, nearly the entire offensive line, and the top quarterback in the class of 2022 will take over the reins in what could be the key piece in elevating the team beyond what has been their metaphorical ceiling for the past 10 seasons. And, with a season under their belts, the Manny Diaz’s defense is going to be even more ferocious than it was a season ago.

II. Discovery

A. Previously Presented Evidence

B. New Evidence

  1. Tyler Warren is ready to take a bigger role in the tight end group, along with Theo Johnson.
  2. Dante Cephas, who joined the Nittany Lions for fall camp, is progressing through the depth chart. KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Harrison Wallace III are considered WR1 and WR2, respectively.
  3. Linebacker Tony Rojas impressed, and could see extended time this season. Kobe King, twin brother of Kalen King, has taken hold of the middle linebacker position.

III. Schedule of Events

Penn State schedule for 2023 season.
Apparently UMass doesn’t suck anymore!

The Nittany Lions start off with a Power 5 opponent, albeit one in disarray. A longtime rival in West Virginia visits State College for a primetime kickoff on NBC. The game shouldn’t pose much of a threat, and will of course be the first look at Drew Allar as the full-time starter.

The Lions hit the road early, as they visit Illinois in Week three. In fact, Penn State will play all three of its West counterparts in a row, hosting Iowa a week after Illinois, then traveling to hapless Northwestern after.

Penn State gets a break, as UMass comes to town after a bye week. Bye weeks have not been kind to the Nittany Lions, so this should hopefully help in avoiding an inexplicable performance. Or, rather, an inexplicable performance should theoretically not lead to a loss this time around.

After the UMass game, Penn State will play all six of its East games in a row, starting with a road game to Ohio State.

IV. Emotional Plea

An impassioned plea to believe in Penn State’s quality coming into 2023 is not as effective as it was last season. But hear this: Michigan is the clear favorite in the Big Ten this season. Ohio State is the most talented program in the conference. But, people of the jury, Penn State is right there.

What they have coming back, combined with what they have recruited in the past few seasons, have positioned the Nittany Lions to compete with the Big Two. Like Michigan, who was a clear third in the division until they weren’t, the Nittany Lions are ready to get to the heights they reached in 2016.

Drew Allar will turn out to play like he was the top-ranked quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class. Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen will pick up where they left off. The defense, chock full of talent and experience, will only get better. And the Nittany Lions will beat one of the big two in 2023.

V. Verdict

Penn State record predictions from each writer. Average prediction is 10.5 wins and 1.5 losses.

People of the jury, there’s a reason BRT is the smartest, most talented writer in this entire blog. Trust her judgment.

Very Truly Yours,