Where to from here for Penn State?
football Edit

Where to from here for Penn State Football?

7-5 in 2021. 11-10 over the last two season.

James Franklin, he of the newly minted 10-year, $75 million contract, knows those numbers aren't good enough. When pressed on the matter in recent weeks, Franklin has been open about the need for improvement. And while Penn State fans will appreciate that openness, without a change in results it won't be nearly enough to keep the already circling buzzards at bay.

But that begs the biggest question of all, what needs to change for Penn State to not only chase down Ohio State, but also now Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten East alone.

The biggest, and most glaring issue for Penn State this season was the offensive line, as has been the case for the entirety of Franklin's tenure. Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein has struggled mightily in what is his second year at the head of the unit after replacing Matt Limegrover, who had previously replaced Herb Hand. The sense around the program is that Trautwein is on the hot seat at the moment, but the offensive line room could do with some much-needed stability and next year could see Trautwein start to incorporate his recruits into the fold. Whether that's a solution to Penn State's seemingly endless problem up front is to be determined, but we'll likely get the opportunity to find out.

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Then there's the matter of quarterback.

Redshirt senior Sean Clifford has yet to announce whether he's going to return for the extra year of eligibility granted to all athletes after the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season. The latest indications point toward Clifford leaving, though nothing has been settled. If he returns, he's a near shoe-in for the starting job in 2022, a fact that is sure to draw the ire of a number of fans. If he leaves, the Nittany Lions will likely at least test the waters in the transfer portal, though true freshman Christian Veilleux shined in his cameo appearance against Rutgers. Should Clifford leave and a transfer not come in, it'll be one of Veilleux or incoming freshmen Drew Allar or Beau Pribula who will get the nod.

Whoever takes over will have to find a new No. 1 target, as senior Jahan Dotson is bound for the NFL Draft where he's expected to be a first or second-day prospect. Parker Washington, KeAndre Lambert-Smith and Malick Meiga all figure to be big parts of that discussion, as do incoming freshmen Kaden Saunders and Anthony Ivey, but don't rule out Penn State hitting the portal there as well if the right name comes available.

Flipping sides of the ball, Brent Pry's defense had been excellent for much of the season prior to Saturday's loss to Michigan State. While Pry could be in line for a raise with the new deal for Franklin, his name is also likely to come up for a number of the available head coaching jobs nationwide, with Louisiana-Lafayette leading the way should Billy Napier head elsewhere, as it seems might happen. Pry was a finalist for the job when Napier was hired in 2017.

If he stays, Pry will have his work cut out for him. While PJ Mustipher has yet to announce whether he'll be returning for an added season, there's a chance the Nittany Lions could lose Mustipher, Derrick Tangelo, Arnold Ebiketie and Jesse Luketa up front, which was the team's de facto starting front four to end the season. The return of Adisa Isaac from injury as well as strides made by Coziah Izzard and D'von Ellies could ease that transition, but it still won't be easy.

At linebacker, Ellis Brooks is on his way out and Brandon Smith could be NFL Draft bound, while All-American safety Jaquan Brisker as well as Tariq Castro-Fields and potential Joey Porter Jr. could be gone from once of the country's most aggressive secondaries. While numbers are getting slim, with a 25-plus person recruiting class coming in 2022, don't be surprised if the Nittany Lions look to the transfer portal again to fill some of those holes, especially in the pass rush.

Then there's the matter of resilience. Franklin's first standout Penn State team, in 2016, was marked by its resilience. Not just in games, but in the season as a whole. Since then, the Nittany Lions have had a habit of compounding mistakes both in games and over the course of a season. Does the program, as well as the coach, have what's necessary to dust itself off and get back on course?

To do so, it will have to fight against a schedule that could feature four games against preseason top 25 teams to start the season, three of which come on the road.

The road back for Penn State started the second the final whistle blew in East Lansing on Saturday. Which direction that road goes, we'll have to wait and see.

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