2016 Season Outlook
Don't Miss Games and Players to Watch
by David Abruzzese Jr.
There's nothing quite like spring in Happy Valley. With temperatures steadily climbing, speculation surrounding Penn State's regular season outlook begins to ramp up. Though spring practice has only just begun, it's fair to take a look down the road as we inch closer to a new chapter in Penn State football.
The name fans should be all too familiar with by now is Saquon Barkley, and for good reason -- he's one of the most talented running backs in the country. He dethroned Akeel Lynch two weeks into the 2015 regular season and never once looked back. Penn State's offense under John Donovan's watch was frustrating to say the least, but new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead plans on maximizing the production of his players by using them correctly with his offensive approach. With a dynamic rusher like Barkley, there's only one way to do that -- hand him the football.
As a true freshman, Barkley totaled 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns on just 182 carries. Expect the Lions to lean on their prized possession heavily, meaning his number of touches will rise significantly, especially when you consider the question marks surrounding the quarterback position. If Barkley can replicate his success in 2015 and continue to grow, there's a good chance Barkley could enter the Heisman conversation. Bigger and stronger than ever, the young back will be a force to be reckoned with, and could be the reason the Lions see some early success.
Looking at the schedule, the Lions play a relatively balanced slate that could allow them to build some momentum heading into their crucial second-half push. Three games in particular stand out as must-wins if Penn State is to remain competitive as the season wears on. A week two meeting with Pitt — the first such occasion since 2000 — re-ignites a storied rivalry, and gives the Lions a chance to test themselves early. Week three should be especially interesting with Temple coming to town. The Owls pulled off a 27-10 stunner in the season opener, beating Penn State for the first time in more than seven decades. It’s easy to see why there might be some bad blood between the two, and with a reloaded Temple squad, it’ll be important for the Lions to ensure they wind up on top.
Conference play opens with a bang as the Lions travel to Ann Arbor to battle Michigan in another attempt to seek redemption from last season’s senior day defeat. The key to the season for Penn State will be securing conference victories, and with a much more favorable schedule in terms of venue (the Lions played a home-heavy schedule in the first half of the year), it’ll be important for Penn State to rack off some wins in an attempt to make a push in a loaded Big Ten East.
Though Penn State loses a number of key contributors, there’s young talent abound thanks to a series of stellar recruiting classes. Penn State’s secondary and linebacking corps should keep the defense competitive, especially with the much-anticipated return of Nyeem Wartman-White. The defensive line will be young, but the future looks bright with returning starter Garrett Sickels manning the ship and young talent like Shane Simmons arriving. There are just as many question marks on offense, but whoever wins the starting quarterback job should have plenty of weapons in players like DaeSean Hamilton and Chris Godwin — along with towering duo of Irvin Charles and Juwan Johnson — to throw to, and an otherworldly talent lining up behind him at running back. An improvement on last year’s 7-6 record will not be easy, but it’s certainly attainable if all goes according to plan. We’ve still got plenty of time before the regular season dawns, but it’s always fun to discuss.