Penn State Football Preview: Akron
Travis Sutton, Mitch Stewart, Joe Murphy and Jason Marcus break down Penn State's season opener against Akron.
Expectations are high this season for the No. 6 Nittany Lions as they are the returning champions of the Big Ten and coming off of an 11-3 season, the first time they won more than 10 games in six years.
Penn State has a chance to make a run for the national championship and two players with the potential to win the Heisman trophy. The success of Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley will be the determining factor of Penn State’s success.
McSorley emerged last year as he won the starting job in the spring and propelled the Nittany Lions during their nine-game winning streak. His ability to make plays under precious and willingness to throw downfield gave Penn State the spark it missed under John Donovan.
McSorley gained almost 4,000 yards of total offense last year and 36 touchdowns, including 638 passing yards and eight touchdowns in the Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl. His big game presence improved over the season, which will be huge for Penn State.
Barkley enters the season with more hype than any other running back in common memory as his ability in the passing game and running game baffles college defenses. He nearly gained 1,500 yards on the ground and scored 18 touchdowns, including a dominant 194-yard performance in the Rose Bowl.
His hands are seriously underrated as he caught 28 passes for 402 yards last season. Barkley’s ability out of the backfield will be the reason he separates himself from the other top running backs in the nation as Penn State needs someone to replace Chris Godwin.
Senior tight end Mike Gesicki and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton look like the two leading candidates as they are the top returning receivers for the Nittany Lions. The Akron defense was not great last season as they were the 15th worst in the nation in yards allowed.
The Zips were especially poor against the run, meaning Andre Robinson, Mark Allen and Miles Sanders will all have plenty of opportunities to carry the ball. The Penn State offense has already proven themselves, but the Penn State defense needs to prove themselves against experienced Thomas Woodson.
Marcus Allen is top returning member of the defense as he led the team with 106 tackles, including 22 against Minnesota. One of the top returning safeties in the nation, Allen needs to improve his coverage ability as the pass rush is still a question mark.
The defensive ends are unproven as defensive tackle Kevin Givens is the leading returning sack man with five. Torance Brown and Shareef Miller are the slated starters, but they only combined for 2.5 sacks, with Miller getting two in last year’s opener.
Woodson threw for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns last year, meaning he could beat the Nittany Lions with his arm if they are unable to get a constant pass rush. Heralded redshirt freshman Shane Simmons will be the X-factor in the game as he needs to prove his high school ranking.
The loss of their top two receivers from last year will make it harder for Woodson, who struggled last year against Wisconsin. The lack of playmakers for Akron will make it difficult for them to keep it close as Penn State will run away with a 41-10 victory.
Joe Esquivel-Murphy is a senior majoring in Spanish and broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.