By Harry Allison
Not to put too much pressure on Penn State’s football team, but coach James Franklin’s crew has been tabbed a break-out 2015 team by the web site SportsOnEarth.com:
5. Penn State
Last Top 25 finish: 2009
2014 Record: 7-6
Five-Year Recruiting Rank: 29
Penn State remains a difficult team to evaluate as it pulls itself out of its sanction-induced depth crisis. Finding enough capable bodies was a problem last year, most notably on the offensive line, which led to several unwatchable performances from the offense despite the presence of potential No. 1 draft pick Christian Hackenberg at quarterback.
Scholarship numbers are rising, though, and at the very least Penn State should have more options on the offensive line, more experienced receivers and a defense that remains one of the Big Ten’s best.
It also has one of the most favorable schedules among the Power Five conferences. The Nittany Lions intentionally went light on nonconference competition when faced with potentially crippling sanctions, and it shows this year: Penn State opens with a “road” game at Temple, then plays five home games in a row vs. Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana.
There is a good chance the Lions will be 6-0 when they visit Ohio State in a prime-time game on Oct. 17. The Lions also have to visit Michigan State, but otherwise there’s a chance they’ll be favored in 10 of their 12 games. That doesn’t mean they’ll win all those, as the margin for error will continue to be thin until experienced depth can be built, but this is a team that should be on sturdier ground in 2015, in the second year of a new coaching staff, with a franchise quarterback and a stingy defense to build around.