Penn State spring football practice preview for 2017. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Championship Game last season and prepare to defend their title.
It seems crazy now to think that James Franklin’s job security was being questioned after Penn State dropped to 2-2 following a 49-10 loss at Michigan on Sept. 24. The already impatient Nittany Lions fan base wasn’t impressed with Franklin going 7-6 in his first two seasons and believed they were heading that direction again.
Fast forward to Dec. 3, when Penn State beat Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game to cap a nine-game winning streak that had many believe the Nittany Lions deserved a College Football Playoff berth – especially because of their earlier victory over Ohio State.
Instead they suffered a heartbreaking Rose Bowl loss to USC, but Franklin was named Big Ten Coach of the Year and also received recognition nationally. With that success, though, comes even greater expectations, and Penn State certainly will be expected to compete for another Big Ten title and a CFP appearance.
Here are three storylines to watch as Penn State’s spring football practice starts Wednesday.
Penn State Spring Football Practice Storylines
1. The Trace McSorley/Saquon Barkley Show
Everyone knew McSorley had talent, but few expected the performance he had last season. He threw for 3,614 yards with 29 touchdowns and just eight interceptions in his first year as a starter, tossing four touchdown passes in each of Penn State’s last three games. McSorley is one of the top returning quarterbacks in the nation for 2017 and again will form a dangerous 1-2 punch with Barkley, who also enters his junior campaign.
Barkley will be seeking his third straight 1,000-yard season after going for 1,496 yards and 18 touchdowns while also scoring four times through the air. His 194-yard performance in the Rose Bowl was a coming-out party on the national stage. With McSorley and Barkley leading the offense, Penn State is thinking big things again in 2017.
2. The Replacements
That duo returning is all well and good, but that doesn’t mean Penn State has every key player back. Wide receiver Chris Godwin left for the NFL, as did defensive ends Evan Schwan and Garrett Sickels.
McSorley still will have Saeed Blacknall, who broke out for six catches, 155 yards and two touchdowns in the Big Ten title game before being suspended for the Rose Bowl. Sophomore 6-foot-4 receivers Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson are expected to contribute heavily, too.
Losing Schwan and Sickels from a defense that finished second in the Big Ten in sacks isn’t ideal, but the Nittany Lions have plenty of young talent ready to make an impact. Sophomores Shareef Miller and Ryan Buchholz should play large roles, along with redshirt freshman Shane Simmons.
Forget the fact that Ohio State and Michigan also play in the Big Ten East – the Nittany Lions won that division last year and believe they can do it again. Their fans certainly believe it – and expect it – as well.
Franklin’s team took a huge step last season after back-to-back mediocre campaigns and used it to succeed on the recruiting trail, raising expectations even further. Can they live up to them? They certainly have the talent to do so.
Penn State’s spring football practice concludes on Saturday, April 22 with its annual spring game.