2018 Penn State projections on the Hour Glass
By John Luke McCord
James Franklin and Penn State have some real momentum entering 2018, with back-to-back 11-win seasons still easily visible in the rearview mirror. But like every other program in the country they aren’t immune to attrition and will have some question marks, as well.
The bright spot is that quarterback Trace McSorely - who ranks 6th in FBS and 1st in Big Ten with 24.2 Hour Glass QB stamp - is back to guide the offense. But an offense, mind you, that will have to find some way to replace Swiss Army knife-like playmaker Saquon Barkley. On top of having to replace offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who is now the head coach at Mississippi State.
On defense, seven of the top eight tacklers in 2017 are gone.
That brings me to another bright spot. Franklin, who was an impressive recruiter even at Vanderbilt, has put the Nittany Lions back on pace with the big boys on the recruiting trail. Penn State ranks third in the Big Ten, and 12th in the FBS, with an Hour Glass recruiting stamp of 88.97. That puts them comfortably among the teams within the Hour Glass National Title contender zone (top 16 3-year recruiting stamps in FBS).
Let’s look at some of the faces returning on offense. In 2017, McSorely was significant piece to the rushing attack with nearly 500 yards to go with 11 scores. But it will be Miles Sanders that will gain the most carries with the absence of Barkley. Sanders averaged 6.2 yards per carry and scored twice on 31 totes in 2017. He’s also served as a more than solid kick returner the past two seasons. He will no doubt have a compliment of younger guys around him, but Miles Sanders is the name to know on the ground. Through the air we know that McSorely can gash opponents, whether it be down the seam, on the edge or in the flat. So the Lions must have versatile pass catchers. At receiver it’ll be the massive Juwan Johnson on the edge and smaller, quicker guys like DeAndre Thompkins and Brandon Polk in the flat and over the middle. Plus, you know the tight ends will be involved in the middle of the field, so expect to see some combination of Jon Holland, Nick Bowers, Danny Dalton, Joe Arcangelo plus possibly newcomers.
Even without so many productive defenders from a season ago, don’t sleep on some of the returning stars of the 2018 unit. Up front the Lions return their most disruptive players from last year in Shareef Miller, who led the team with 11 TFLs and five sacks. Plus seniors Koa Farmer and Nick Scott are back to lead the linebacker group and defensive secondary, respectively. At linebacker there should be plenty of pieces to fit around Farmer, and the same can be said in the secondary. However, the defensive line needs to build depth after Miller, Rob Windsor and Kevin Givens, especially at the interior line spots.
Though Penn State faces the Big Ten’s fifth most difficult schedule in 2018, they do have Ohio State, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin at home.
Hour Glass analytics pick: 10-2, 3rd in Big Ten East
My pick: 10-2, 2nd in Big Ten East
2017 Penn State projections were 10-2; actual finish 10-2 (100 percent accuracy)
Hour Glass National Recruiting Ranking: 12th – Inside our Realistic College Football National Champion Line on our talent index.
National Coaching Rank for James Franklin on HG Scale: 16th (Franklin Stamp at 13) – Average coaching value for 2018 set at 3.75.
Returning Penn State quarterback play rated 6th in the country out of 130 teams. Average quarterback stamp nationally for 2018 is 8.3. Penn State has a stamp of 24.2.