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2020 Big Ten Opponent Preview: Penn State

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Michigan State-Penn State is set for Beaver Stadium Dec. 12. Here is what to know about the Nittany Lions.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 26 Penn State at Michigan State Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the 2020 Big Ten football season gets closer and closer, we continue our Michigan State Spartans’ opponent previews with the final regular season opponent, the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Spartans and Nittany Lions battle in Happy Valley on Dec. 12, in what will be the final “regular season game” on the conference schedule. And yes, we are just as happy as you are to have the rivalry battle for the “LAZERZ, PEW PEW” Land Grant Trophy back where it belongs, too!

To help paint the picture of what Penn State looks like heading into the regular season, Jared Slanina of Black Shoe Diaries — the quintessential site for all things Nittany Lions — gives great insights and analysis into the Big Ten rival.

Here is what we need to know about Penn State:

List your team’s key departures:

  • KJ Hamler- WR
  • Yetur Gross-Matos-DE
  • Micah Parsons- LB
  • Ricky Rahne-OC

List your team’s key returnees:

  • Journey Brown-RB
  • Sean Clifford-QB
  • Shaka Toney-DE
  • Pat Freiermuth-TE

List a few true freshmen or transfers that will make an instant impact:

  • KeAndre Lambert Smith-WR
  • Parker Washington-WR
  • Curtis Jacobs-LB
  • Lance Dixon-OLB

Brief overview of 2020 team:

Penn State returns its starting quarterback, four of five offensive lineman (with the new starter with extensive playing time under his belt), a stable of talented backs led by Journey Brown...and only one wide receiver with any practical experience. It will be crucial for at least two young wideouts to emerge early in the season and for Sean Clifford to quickly build a rapport with them as KJ Hamler is no longer around to bail out the offense like he did so often the last two seasons.

The strength of the defense will be the linebackers, even with the departure of Micah Parsons. The defensive line returns plenty of talent and should be deeper than in recent years, but will need to get after the quarterback with more consistency throughout the season. The secondary was exposed toward the end of the season and could again be a liability against opponents with a quality quarterback.

What’s your team’s biggest strength?

A stable of talented running backs guided by a veteran offensive line

What’s your team’s biggest weakness?

A lack of experience at wide receiver

How does your fanbase feel about your coach and his staff?

The fanbase is largely happy with what James Franklin has done in Happy Valley, especially getting the program consistently in the top-10 and winning a Big Ten championship well ahead of schedule. The biggest questions are if he can ever get past Ohio State on a regular basis (tall order) and if those disturbing fourth quarter collapses in big games are behind him. With that being said, there is a vocal minority who think that the he should be fired, every player cut, and the stadium torn down every time they lose a game — or heck, don’t win by 40-plus points.

Who is your team’s MVP this season and why?

I’ll go with tight end Pat Freiermuth, who has an excellent shot at being a first-team All-American and winner of the Mackey Award. He will play an even more essential role as Penn State works to break in several inexperienced wide receivers.

Predict your team’s record, its best win, and a potential surprise loss:

7-1, win them all but Ohio State. However, I wouldn’t be shocked if they lose at Indiana, where they always seem to be stuck in slow motion, or drop one against Iowa or Michigan, who they play in back-to-back weeks.

What else should we know about your team this year?

Penn State is set up for success more so than the last two seasons, but it will be a moot point if they cannot get past Ohio State for the first time since 2016.


Thank you to Jared for the in-depth analysis regarding Penn State. If you want to keep up with news about the Nittany Lions, definitely follow Black Shoe Diaries on Twitter.