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2017 Big Ten football preview: Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs down the field with the ball as quarterback Trace McSorley (9) blocks Michigan State linebacker Chris Frey (23) at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016. Penn State won, 45-12. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Location: College Park, Pennsylvania

2016 Record: 11-3 (8-1 Big Ten)

Head Coach: James Franklin

2017 Record so far: 2-0

All-Time Record vs. Ohio State: 14-17

What’s has happened thus far in 2017:

Penn State has flexed its muscles early this season with commanding wins against Akron (52-0) and in-state Pittsburgh (33-14). The team has averaged 440.5 yards per game and allowed just a single touchdown. Both the passing attack, led by redshirt junior quarterback Trace McSorley, and the rushing attack, led by Heisman-hopeful junior running back Saquon Barkley, have been extremely effective thus far as the Nittany Lions have accumulated at least 390 yards in each game.

Impact Player

Barkley makes for the obvious choice of impact player. A season ago, Barkley finished 14th among FBS players with 1,496 rushing yards and tied for seventh with 18 rushing touchdowns. Barkley is making his presence felt once again this fall, rushing for 260 yards on 28 carries (9.3 yards per carry) and three touchdowns. He has also provided McSorley with another reliable receiver, with 99 receiving yards on seven catches, including a touchdown. If Penn State’s offense is going to be one of the best in the nation, Barkley will be counted on to be its catalyst.

Strengths

Plain and simple, everything about the Penn State offense is the team’s strength. In addition to Barkley’s excellence, the passing game has returned practically all of its weapons from a season ago. Though its leading receiver Chris Godwin departed for the NFL, the next four of its top receivers from 2016 — Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins and Barkley — all returned to the team. The Nittany Lions averaged 37.6 points per game last season (21st in the nation) and returned an offensive line that allowed just one sack last season.

Weaknesses

Penn State is one of the most well-rounded teams in college football, but its main weakness would probably come from its secondary. Opponents threw for 3,033 yards and 18 touchdowns while Penn State only picked off 10 passes in 2016. The team seems to have improved in the area to begin the season as it has allowed only 136.5 passing yards per game, no passing touchdowns and has intercepted three passes already. However, neither Pittsburgh nor Akron were known for their passing offenses, so it’s possible the defense has yet to receive its first real test.

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