Penn State Football 2016 Team Grades

Story posted January 4, 2017 in CommRadio, Sports by Charles Hart

Penn State’s miraculous season has come to an end. The Nittany Lions finished the season with nine straight wins, a conference championship and a Rose Bowl appearance.

Here are the team grades for the 2016 Penn State Nittany Lions.

Quarterback: A

McSorley’s maturation was one of the biggest reasons why Penn State turned its season around. McSorley kept defensive backs wary of the deep ball this season with 9.3 yards per throw. He led the Big Ten in virtually all passing categories, including touchdowns, yards, and Passing Efficiency Rating. Turnovers plagued McSorley early on, but he limited his turnovers output eventually. This plague unfortunately returned at the worst possible time against USC. If McSorley can limit his fumbles and picks next season, he will be a Heisman hopeful.

Running Back: A+

Speaking of 2017 Heisman Trophy Award Contenders, Saquon Barkley finished the season as the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a member of the Associated Press All-American third team. The Big Ten leader in total yards and touchdowns, Barkley proved to be the centerpiece of the Nittany Lions’ offensive attack. A back that can hurt defenses in the passing and running game, Barkley was the best player wearing blue and white in 2016.

Wide Receivers: B+

Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins, and Saeed Blacknall define this unit. Hamilton had the most disappointing season of the four. After a stellar game against Pitt, Hamilton struggled for much of the season. Hamilton had games of 85 and 118 yards against Indiana and Wisconsin respectively, but still finished with only 506 receiving yards, the lowest of his three-year career at Penn State. DeAndre Thompkins, who early on replaced an injured Saeed Blacknall, surpassed expectations. He averaged 57 yards per game from weeks two to six, with a penchant for making plays on deep balls. Saeed Blacknall returned in Week 8 and had his best game of the season in the Big Ten Championship Game with 155 yards and two touchdowns. Blacknall's big-play ability was severely missed during the Rose Bowl, with McSorley struggling to find any wide receiver not named Chris Godwin. Godwin, Penn State’s best receiver this season, had games, most notably against Michigan and Maryland, where he disappeared. Overall though, Godwin showed that he was Penn State’s most talented receiver, tallying just under 1,000 yards on the season and having a 187 yard, two touchdown game during the Rose Bowl.

Tight End: A

2014: 114 yards, 11 receptions and zero touchdowns.

2015: 125 yards, 13 receptions and one touchdown.

2016: 679 yards, 48 receptions and five touchdowns.

These are Mike Gesicki’s numbers over his first three seasons at Penn State. Michigan’s Jake Butt has been praised by analysts this season as a potential first round pick, but when comparing the numbers of these two tight ends, Gesicki has had more yards, receptions and touchdowns than Butt. In short, Mike Gesicki has played like one of the top tight ends in college football this season but has been largely unnoticed.

Offensive Line: B+

The offensive line suffered countless injuries, yet the results remained unchanged. For the first time in a long time, this unit was a strength for the team. Matt Limegrover, in his first year as the Offensive Line coach at Penn State, has done a remarkable job.

Defense: B-

When you lose the majority of your starters, the results are likely to be poor. After the season opener, the Nittany Lions’ defense allowed an average of 36 points per game against Pitt, Temple, Michigan, and Minnesota. It wasn’t until linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda returned that the Nittany Lions defense returned to form. Standouts include linemen Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan, who combined for 12 sacks on the season, linebacker Manny Bowen with 8.5 tackles for loss, linebacker Brandon Bell, who recorded two picks, 7.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and four sacks, and safety Marcus Allen who led the team in tackles.

Special Teams: C+

Tyler Davis was tremendous this season, missing only two field goals, both of which were blocked. Punter Blake Gillikin averaged 42.8 yards per punt, 30th in the nation. Miles Sanders and John Reid were solid on kick and punt returns respectively. However, many careless mistakes plagued this unit the entire year, most recently the opening kickoff in the Rose Bowl.

Coaching: A+

James Franklin coached teams do not get up for big games they said. James Franklin ruins quarterbacks they said. Penn State will never win anything with James Franklin they said. All of these statements ring false after the season Franklin and company had. Offensive Coordinator Joe Moorhead will have no trouble finding a head coaching job after the job he has done with Fordham and now the Nittany Lions. Moorhead may have been the most valuable assistant in all of college football. Matt Limegrover, who I mentioned earlier, should receive a ton of credit too.

Overall: A+

Simply remarkable. That is the best way to describe the 2016 Penn State Nittany Lions. By the end of the season, they proved to be the best team in the Big Ten, better than Ohio State and Michigan. With one of the youngest teams in the college football and the core of the team returning for next season, 2017 will be a fun year for football in Happy Valley.


Charles Hart is a freshman majoring in print journalism. To contact him, email