With the uncertainty surrounding college, professional, high school, and children sports right now we must not lose sight of what is still to come. There are still sporting events to look forward to, even if they aren’t happening right now. The NBA season will resume. MLB will have its opening day. College Football will play again. We don’t know when these events will occur, but we can count on, and look forward to, them happening. So, who are the Penn State returning football players to watch on the offense in 2020?
Penn State Football Players to Watch: Offense
With no spring football and no Blue-White game, it will be harder to know who will step up in the absence of players that declared for the draft and/or graduated. Therefore, we will need to look at production and growth throughout the 2019 season to determine the players to watch on the offense in 2020. Some players are a given, while others still have room to grow. That growth is either because of youth or talent pool at the given position. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how these players develop without the benefit of spring football. The Penn State football offense was 15th in the country in scoring offense in 2019. Hopefully, with the bulk of the playmakers returning, this ranking will increase in 2020.
There are four returning quarterbacks in the potential rotation after the 2019 season. Headlining the unit is QB1, Sean Clifford. Clifford is the presumed starter entering the 2020 season. Without being able to see how the others have progressed since the end of the 2019 season, Clifford will be the one to watch. The signal-caller had a good first season as the starter for the Nittany Lions. After sitting behind Penn State great Trace McSorley, Clifford took over as a redshirt sophomore in 2019. He threw for 2,654 yards, 23 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
To compare, in his first season as the starting quarterback, McSorley threw for 1,000 more yards, six more touchdowns, and one more interception. The difference? McSorley played in two more games than Clifford. McSorley had a similar second season while playing in one less game. Overall, Clifford is right there. McSorley also had Saquon Barkley in his backfield. The running backs having a season under their belt will definitely help Clifford in 2020.
There are three returning running backs from 2019 that all saw a chunk of playing time throughout the season. The only one that is not returning is Ricky Slade who announced he would be transferring. That leaves Journey Brown, Noah Cain, and Devyn Ford.
Let’s start with Cain. Cain was a true freshman in 2019 and he took the Big Ten by storm. He rushed for eight touchdowns, earning him the record for most rushing touchdowns by a freshman in Penn State history. It should also be noted that he did this while missing four or five games with an injury. Now that he is, hopefully, healthy Cain is definitely in line for an even bigger role in 2020.
Next, let’s talk about Brown. Brown had a very good season as a redshirt sophomore in 2019. He will also be the oldest returner for the running back group in 2020. He was 110 yards shy of a 1,000 yard rushing season and had 12 rushing touchdowns. Brown also tacked on a receiving touchdown to make his total 13. Without spring football to see where all three backs stand, look for Brown to be the number one running back to start the season in September.
Finally, it’s time to see how Ford faired in his debut season as a Nittany Lion. The other true freshman played in 12 games last season and rushed for three touchdowns. He had flashes of greatness and fans could see that he will likely grow into a very reliable running back. He will also be in the mix again in 2020.
The wide receiver group has been thin for the last few seasons for Penn State. Now with the loss of KJ Hamler to the NFL Draft, the load will fall on the shoulders of Jahan Dotson. Dotson was only a sophomore last season and did not play in every game as a freshman in 2018. He accounted for five receiving touchdowns on 488 receiving yards. The speedy Hamler was Clifford’s favorite target and very reliable a season ago, so it is not surprising that these numbers don’t jump off of the page. This fall will be Dotson’s time to shine. He will undoubtedly be the number one receiver unless a younger player steps up. Look for Dotson to thrive under new wide receiver coach Taylor Stubblefield when practice hopefully resumes this summer.
The receiving group is not complete without arguably the best offensive player for the Nittany Lions, tight end Pat Freiermuth. Freiermuth is the most consistent receiver that Penn State has. He accounted for 507 receiving yards this season and seven touchdowns. The most notable improvement in his game though came in his blocking. Blocking is not something that shows up on the stat sheet, but finding a tight end that excels at both pass protection and receiving is something that Penn State has been able to do in recent years. Many times in 2019 Freiermuth was dubbed the best tight end in the country but in the end was not a Mackey Award Finalist. He came back for 2020 to bring home the award and it will be fun to watch him try.
Beyond Penn State Football Offense
We don’t know when college football coaches and student-athletes will be able to return to practice, but one thing is certain, they will return. In the meantime, we will continue to look at players to watch. Next time it will be the defense, highlighted by none other than All-American linebacker Micah Parsons.