College football’s most underrated team: the Penn State Nittany Lions

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Joe Broback

Contributor at Champion Insiders
Joe is a writer covering the NFL, NBA, NHL and college football. He also currently writes for SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty, covering the American Athletic Conference since 2016. Joe enjoys collecting shoes, playing sports, and anything fitness related.
Joe Broback
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Trace McSorley ran out of eligibility. Tommy Stevens transferred to Mississippi State. James Franklin didn’t have any reliable options at quarterback. There weren’t any proven playmakers at the skill positions. The Penn State Nittany Lions were counted out before the season began. In a Big Ten East full of competition, the Nittany Lions figured to finish fourth at best. Little did we know they would be competing for the top spot six weeks into the season.

Penn State Nittany Lions talented offense

Sean Clifford attempted just seven passes coming into this year. He completed five of them for 195 yards (with 95 coming on one play). His negative three yards rushing didn’t provide any indication that he’d be a threat running the ball. That’s quickly change as the season’s started. If anything, Clifford’s just the next McSorley/Stevens to run Penn State’s offense. He’s completing 66.7% of his passes and also averaging 4.7 yards per carry. He’s also only thrown two interceptions, giving Franklin a reliable quarterback who’s can lead his team. It helps that his playmakers stepped up as well.

KJ Hamler flashed his potential as a freshman, but elevated his performance through the first five games. After averaging 18 yards per catch and five touchdowns last year, he’s increased that to 20.7 and four touchdowns already. Clifford benefits from having weapons like Jahan Dotson (20.2 ypc), Pat Freiermuth (11.9), and Nick Bowers (27.2), but also can rely on Hamler as a safety net and big-time playmaker. None of them steal the spotlight, but rather work together to torch opposing defenses. We’ve seen the explosiveness, but the question remains if they can do that against elite competition.

Penn State the contender?

Penn State’s 5-0 start isn’t surprising, it’s the way they’ve done it. The Nittany Lions are outscoring opponents 235-37 through their first five games, and only the Pitt game was close. Take out that close win, and they’ve won the other games by an average of nearly 48 points. So why haven’t they received more attention? Quality of competition remains the biggest concern. Penn State’s first five opponents have a combined record of 12-16, which leaves room for concern. They’ve gained a lot of momentum and confidence with this start, but the real test comes in the next month.

Penn State’s next four opponents (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota) have a combined 17-4 record, so we’ll see where they fit in the Big Ten East fairly quickly. Clifford’s emergence continued the offensive explosiveness, and Hamler has the potential to be a college football star. No one expect the Nittany Lions to be this good, but there’s still plenty to prove. The games against Iowa and Minnesota are important, but the ones against Michigan and Michigan State play a role in determining their place in the division. Is a championship game appearance possible? Potentially, but they’re at least in position for that to happen.

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