All this week we preview everything Penn State Nittany Lions football here at talking10. What will the Nittany Lions have in store after a surprising Big Ten championship in 2016?
Well, that’s what we are here to discuss.
We last left off with some bold predictions, but it is time to get back to looking at how the season is really going to go down. As any championship team can tell you, you are only as good as the last man on the roster.
Penn State tested that theory a lot early on in the season in 2016. But, for 2017 that means less surprising names. Nonetheless there are going to be players who make a big impact on the season.
We all know the names of quarterback Trace McSorely and running back Saquon Barkley, those are the easy answers. Last we checked you don’t come here for those kind of answers. So, who do we see as the five players who could have the biggest impact on the 2017 Penn State season?
Let’s take a look.
Saeed Blacknall, WR
Blacknall came to Penn State as the most highly rated prospect in the 2014 class that was signed. He was the No. 22 ranked wide receiver in the class and the No. 3 player in the state of New Jersey. Things haven’t exactly gone to plan since his arrival in Happy Valley. He’s racked up just 33 receptions for 690 yards and five touchdowns in his first three years at Penn State. Last season was his best, with 15 receptions for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
With Chris Godwin off to the NFL, Blacknall needs to pick things up in his final year at Penn State. Luckily, he’s in a passing offense that likes to spread the ball around. He’s got to step up or be a sure-fire bust from the recruiting trail. I mean, he was the head of the class that including Godwin and fellow senior DeAndre Tompkins
Blake Gillikin, P
A punter on the “5 most important players list?” I know what you are thinking, but this is a league where field position battles are still going to matter in a big way and Gillikin is a massive weapon for this team to use.
Gillikin came in and turned around a mediocre at best punting situation in to one of the Big Ten’s best. He finished last season third in punting average at 42.8 yards per punt. With just two seniors ahead of him, he will return as the best punter in the league after just one season. That’s a dangerous and important weapon to have, especially since he was averaging 4.4 punts per game too.
Marcus Allen, DB
Penn State’s defense was good, but it wasn’t great last season. Part of that was due to a rash of injuries to the front seven to start the season. Allen was not an issue at all, ending the season as the leading tackler with 110 tackles. He played well, but having your safety pulling down 100-plus tackles isn’t exactly the best of signs, even if he is playing closer to the line of scrimmage than most.
It shows in the fact that Allen also had 6.0 tackles for loss, but just three passes defensed last year. Penn State could use him back off the line of scrimmage this season. Allen is also hugely important given the lack of overall depth in the secondary and at safety in particular. He was durable last season and must remain so in 2017.
Matt Limegrover, O-line Coach
As amazing as Saquon Barkley was last season, just think of what could’ve happened had he not been boom or bust? Limegrover was brought in prior to last season to replace Herb Hand and was dealt one hell of a hand (pun intended) in 2016. No fewer than nine players saw starts last season, and the hope is the experience breeds quality depth.
Maybe it does, but that will likely come from the knowledge gained on the field and the work that Limegrover does with the group in the offseason. If the Nittany Lions want to take the next step, they must have more consistent and healthy offensive line play plan and simple. That’s why a coach makes this list for me.
Torrence Brown, DE
Plain and simple — Brown has to be more than a run-stuffing defensive end this season. That’s in large part to the boys who did the pass rushing ahead of him heading off to the NFL this past offseason. The departures of Garrett Sickles and Evan Schwan means Brown is the only one with any experience really, and that equates to 6.0 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks.
Not exactly confidence-inspiring stuff, but Brown is experienced and a capable run-stuff as we mentioned before. The combination of need and his experience makes this choice obvious. It doesn’t mean we’re confident Brown is the answer, it just means his development and production are vital to Penn State’s defensive success in 2017.