CommRadio football insiders breakdown Penn State in 2022

posted August 31, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by CommRadio Football Insiders

After a long wait, Penn State finally returns to the gridiron as it takes on the Purdue Boilermakers on Thursday night.

The Nittany Lions won five straight contests to open last season but struggled in their final eight, coming away with just two wins and finishing the season with a record of 7-6.

Our CommRadio Insiders give their predictions on the blue and white’s upcoming campaign.

Record Predictions

Alex Rocco: 9-3

Penn State enters the 2022 campaign with several questions making it extremely difficult to predict how the season will unfold.

Many people predicted the Nittany Lions to eclipse double-digit victories a year ago, but that never occurred. James Franklin has stressed all camp long the improved depth of the program, which could lead to double-digit wins if everything pans out.

However, with many questions surrounding the offensive line and linebackers, the Nittany Lions could easily have another 7-5 regular season.

Ohio State is a bonafide powerhouse, and it'll be hard for Penn State to beat the Buckeyes. Ohio State is just one game in a difficult stretch that sees the Nittany Lions play Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the blue and white lose against tough programs such as Purdue, Michigan State and Auburn. There’s also the possibility Penn State has another loss against a much inferior team as it suffered against Illinois last year.

Logan Bourandas: 10-2

Purdue could be a potential trap game for the blue and white, but unlike the Indiana game a few years ago, it doesn’t ruin its momentum.

The potential is there for the Nittany Lions to bounce back and ride a hot streak up to the Ohio State game.

Auburn and Michigan both had or have quarterback battles that have made headlines, and the Kenneth Walker run game, which made Michigan State tough to beat, is now gone.

Even with the two losses, the opportunity is there for Penn State to end Sean Clifford’s Penn State career the way it began: in a New Year’s Six bowl game.

Evan Popalis: 8-4

This was a back-and-forth battle for me. I’ll slot the Nittany Lions in with four losses due to turnover on the defensive side of the ball.

I think Penn State is ready for Purdue and will leave West Lafayette a coveted 1-0. Heading to Auburn is nerve-racking, especially for a team still searching for experience on key parts of the roster.

I don’t enjoy the fact Franklin has a losing record after a bye. Michigan is always a tightly contested affair, and I believe home turf gives the Wolverines the victory.

Meanwhile, Ohio State is loaded and will most likely be in consideration to make the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes are not invincible, but the task will be tall for the Blue and White.

One of my favorite matchups in the conference every year. Penn State and Michigan State play each other similar to a heated chess match. It feels as if neither team wants to pull away and claim victory. Mel Tucker is a great coach for the Spartans, and they can hand the Nittany Lions their fourth loss in the regular-season finale.

Zach Donaldson: 10-2

Penn State enters the 2022 season unranked for the first time since 2016. There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Nittany Lions, not to mention they’re confronted with a brutally difficult schedule with few forgiving stretches.

The reality is that Penn State could finish anywhere between seven and eleven wins. Maybe I’m too optimistic, but I see Penn State returning to a NY6 bowl after COVID-19 and injuries derailed its past two campaigns.

Sean Clifford’s year-six experience should bode the team well and give the offense an upper hand, even after losing Jahan Dotson to the pros. It will also be the first time in Clifford’s career that he’ll be working with the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons.

Mike Yurcich and new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz are another reason I’m optimistic about the Nittany Lions. The hope is they make up for James Franklin’s in-game shortcomings in recent years and avoid the one or two head-scratching losses.

To start the season, the Nittany Lions visit two hostile road environments in West Lafayette and Auburn, which could be a season-defining test for Franklin’s squad. My gut tells me that they win the opener but get clawed by the Tigers, who will be seeking revenge.

Penn State has a 3-6 record under Franklin following the bye, and this year draws a tough test. The Nittany Lions travel to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines, resulting in a second loss.

You can call me crazy, but I think the blue and white finally pull it off against the Buckeyes. Penn State is at home this year and will be coming off a big win against Minnesota in the White Out game, where there’s no hangover but a resurgence.

Emma Holtz: 9-3

The Nittany Lions have made strides in the offseason to fix key issues on both sides of the ball, but I don’t believe it will result in double-digit wins this season.

While it is the first game to kick off the 2022 season, a lot is weighing on Penn State’s performance versus Purdue in West Lafayette for me. Playing football in the Big Ten Conference means that there are no “easy” wins.

The Boilermakers ranked fourth in the West Division in 2021 with a matching 6-3 record with the Wisconsin Badgers and Minnesota Golden Gophers.

For context, the Blue and White only won by a touchdown against the Badgers last year. This makes me cautiously optimistic for a Nittany Lions roster without star wide receiver Jahan Dotson available downfield for deep-pass depth.

That being said, the Nittany Lions will have time to work out team chemistry ahead of its Big Ten schedule beginning on Oct. 1.

Looking ahead, traveling to the Big House to face the Wolverines will prove to be too big of a task with an adjusting roster. However, Penn State will overcome Minnesota and Ohio State this year with an electric Beaver Stadium crowd behind them.

Bold Predictions

Alex Rocco: Nicholas Singleton rushes for over 1,000 yards

The blue and white haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2018 when Miles Sanders racked up 1,274 yards on the ground. 

That streak ends this year, and it's true freshman Nicholas Singleton who puts an end to it.

Ever since Singleton committed to the blue and white in early July of 2021, he’s generated serious hype and is the program's highest-rated running back since Sanders in 2016.

The Reading, Pennsylvania, native finished as the best running back in the nation and the No. 31 player while being the Nittany Lions' 11th highest-rated commit in team history.

Singleton has impressed many during spring and fall camp, and Penn State is utilizing a four-man backfield in its opening game against Purdue.

While Keyvone Lee is listed as the starter, it's only a matter of time before Singleton takes over as the lead man in the backfield.

Logan Bourandas: Mitchell Tinsley has a better season than 2021 Jahan Dotson

What better way for Penn State to replace a first-round draft pick who wore number five than with another highly touted receiver wearing the number five.

Tinsley ended his last season at Western Kentucky with 1,402 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns; both totals were higher than Dotson’s final season in a Penn State uniform.

While Tinsley will be facing much tougher competition this season, he has already shown in practice this summer that he’s capable of filling the role Dotson left behind.

Tinsley has made highlight-reel catches throughout the summer and has shown he and Parker Washington will be amongst the top receivers pairings in the nation.

If the running game hasn’t improved from last year to this year, Tinsley will be called upon early and often.

Zach Donaldson: Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley both join the 1,000-yard club

I’ll one up Logan and say that Parker Washington and Mitchell Tinsley eclipse 1,000 receiving yards this season, becoming the fifth and sixth receivers in Penn State history to reach this feat. They’ll also be the first pair to do it in the same season.

The addition of Tinsley isn’t being talked about enough. Penn State was presented with a Jahan Dotson-sized hole at wideout after he left for the pros and filled it flawlessly by making a splash in the transfer portal and landing Tinsley out of Western Kentucky.

He’s extremely explosive, shifty with reliable hands, and a big-play threat every time he touches the football. Sound familiar?

After a standout 2021, Tinsley is going to make a name for himself while Washington solidifies his legacy.

Washington has shown flashes of someone who can do it all at the wide receiver position. He nearly doubled his yardage totals and receptions from his freshman to sophomore year, so I’m picking him to do the same this season and cement himself as one of the best Penn State pass catchers.

I mean, we’re supposed to be bold here, right?

Evan Popalis: Defense allows fewest touchdowns in back-to-back years

I know I said the defense is young, but here is its chance to shine.

Last season, Penn State was a high-caliber shutdown defense when the opposition got into the red zone. Even with a new defensive coordinator in town in Manny Diaz, the Nittany Lions can still thrive on their aggressive nature.

Holding opponents to field goals instead of touchdowns gives you the best chance to win. That was a big part of the blue and white being ranked inside the top five nationally last year.

For this bold prediction to become true, Penn State needs a persistent impact from its defensive line along with sustained coverage from its cornerbacks and safeties.

The Nittany Lions allowed 24 total touchdowns on defense a year ago. Let’s find out if this squad can match that number.

Emma Holtz: The Quarterback position will be a revolving door between Sean Clifford, Drew Allar, Christian Veilleux and Beau Pribula

Due to his on-field experience under the Big Ten lights and playbook knowledge, Sean Clifford will start for the Nittany Lions. However, I do believe there is wiggle room for Franklin to test out his other quarterbacks waiting in the wings.

Five-star recruit Drew Allar, Redshirt Freshman Christian Veilleux and Freshman Beau Pribula were seen slinging alongside Clifford at practice on August 29.

Particularly, the buzz surrounding Franklin naming Allar as the backup quarterback is significant. I firmly believe that game-time reps are vital to Allar getting the experience he signed up for in Happy Valley.

As the season progresses, Franklin will experiment with his starting quarterback more than expected. By the time Ohio State rolls into town, Franklin will have a better idea of who fits his offense the best this season.

X-Factor

Alex Rocco: Olu Fashanu

It's no secret Penn State struggled on the offensive line last season, and it was one of the glaring weaknesses of the team.

Out of 130 FBS teams, the Nittany Lions ranked No. 118 in the country for team rush yards per game, No. 106 in tackles for loss per game and No. 94 in sacks allowed per game.

Olu Fashanu possibly has the most crucial job on the offensive line playing left tackle and being Sean Clifford’s blindside protector.

Fashanu made nine appearances in 2021 last season and started as a redshirt freshman in the Nittany Lions’ bowl game against Arkansas.

The Waldorf, Maryland, native impressed in his first extended action, and he needs to build on his early success this fall.

Logan Bourandas: Ji’Ayir Brown

Ji’Ayir Brown led the team with six interceptions last year, but with a revamped secondary; can he do it again?

Jaquan Brisker served as Brown’s counterpart in the secondary last year but is now with the Chicago Bears.

Alongside Joey Porter Jr., Brown is tasked with leading the new group, and both will be game-changing players throughout the season. Brown proved to be all over the field last season, amounting to 73 tackles which were third on the team.

This year with an unproven defense, there’s nowhere to hide for Brown, and if he comes close to putting up the numbers he had last year, the Penn State defense could remain one of the best in the nation.

Zach Donaldson: Sean Clifford

This isn’t exactly a sexy pick, but I think the season rests on Sean Clifford’s shoulder pads.

Clifford has proved he’s capable of carrying Penn State to a 10-2 mark and was on pace for something much like it, if not better last season. He would’ve been in the Heisman talks, and Penn State would’ve been a top-3 team if he hadn’t suffered an undisclosed upper buddy injury at Iowa.

2022 marks the second consecutive season Clifford will be working in Yurcich’s system, and he has the experience that teams would pay top dollar for.

Clifford has flaws, but if he can limit the turnovers and come up with the timely plays he’s been accustomed to, Penn State’s ceiling is a 10-win team and perhaps even beyond.

He can’t do it all alone, and the offensive line and the running game need to be better, but the Nittany Lions will go as far as Clifford’s arm and decision-making take them.

Evan Popalis: Brenton Strange

We know the plethora of wide receiver talent that this team can reside to be successful. Someone needs to be that target in the middle of the field.

Brenton Strange offers a decent frame to be that pass-catcher for the Nittany Lions. The Parkersburg, West Virginia, native notched 225 yards and three touchdowns a season ago.

A checkdown to a tight end is a quarterback’s best friend when nothing prevails down the field.

It’s not always going to be flashy numbers for the junior, but Strange presents the capabilities to be a difference maker for this offense.

I think Strange can contribute beautifully to the Nittany Lions scheme, and he can find his best season in Happy Valley.

Emma Holtz: Joey Porter Jr.

A physical cornerback with 2023 NFL Draft upside, Joey Porter Jr. is my standout going into the 2022 season. Totalling 51 tackles, 40 of which were solo tackles, four pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble in 2021, Porter Jr. made a name for himself in the cornerbacks' room.

Now under the guidance of defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz, Porter Jr. enters the new season hungry to improve his technique and make major stops.

Porter Jr.’s performance will be magnified for NFL scouts looking to bolster its cornerback talent.

A strong frame, advanced scheme reading ability and competitive drive give Porter Jr. the edge to get a hot start right out of the gate.

Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email alex.rocco1702@gmail.com.

Logan Bourandas is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email lxb5412@psu.edu.

Zach Donaldson is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email zach.donaldson1@gmail.com.

Evan Popalis is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email epopalis83@gmail.com. 

Emma Holtz is a junior majoring in public relations. To contact her, email emma.holtz01@gmail.com.

About the Contributors

Logan Bourandas's photo

Logan Bourandas

Third-Year / Broadcast Journalism

Logan Bourandas is a third-year broadcast journalism major from Long Island, NY. He is a the news director for CommRadio and the host of Ducks on the Pond, which is an all-baseball talk show on CommRadio. He is also a sports writer, broadcaster and podcaster for CommRadio. He got his start as the station manager for his high school radio station WPOB in his hometown of Plainview, NY, where he hosted numerous radio shows and was involved in sports broadcasts. You can contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Zach Donaldson's photo

Zach Donaldson

Senior / Broadcast Journalism

Zach is a fourth-year student from Downingtown, Pennsylvania and is an aspiring broadcast journalism major. Zach is an editor for CommRadio and additionally a member of the CommRadio Sports department. Zach is a producer, broadcaster and beat writer for various live Penn State sporting events. Zach also co-hosts a weekly talk show alongside fellow member Connor Griffin called No Boundaries. The show airs live every Tuesday from 6:15-7:15. Some of his interests aside from CommRadio include watching sports, working out and listening to a variety of music. He can be contacted via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), and you can find him on Twitter @zachdonaldson_.

Alex Rocco's photo

Alex Rocco

Third-Year / Broadcast Journalism

Alex Rocco is a third-year student from Long Island, New York majoring in broadcast journalism. Rocco is a broadcaster, editor and football reporter for CommRadio. Along with covering football for CommRadio, he’s a women’s soccer reporter for The Daily Collegian. Rocco got his start as the president of his high school sports media department, where he wrote numerous articles and broadcasted many games. If you would like to contact him, his email is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Emma Holtz's photo

Emma Holtz

Third Year / Public Relations

Emma Holtz is a third-year from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania majoring in public relations at Penn State University. A member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, she is a Football Insider, sportscaster, and color commentator for CommRadio’s sports department and B1G+. She writes, produces and appears on podcasts related to Big Ten, NFL, NHL and NBA coverage. With a passion for storytelling and fan experience, she serves as a Lead GameDay intern for Penn State Athletics and lifestyle blogger. If you would like to contact her, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Evan Popalis's photo

Evan Popalis

Junior /

Evan Popalis is a third-year from Lititz, Pennsylvania, majoring in broadcast journalism. He is a writer, analyst, and play-by-play commentator for the CommRadio sports department. His writings include weekly NHL betting previews along with power rankings for the NHL and NFL. He appears weekly on the NHL Podcast as a host and analyst reviewing the previous week’s action. If you would like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).