Penn State is the most improved team in college football as the Nittany Lions return sixteen starters and are ranked 56th in the nation in returning production (78%). Continuity is excellent as head coach James Franklin returns for his eighth year in State College, while defensive coordinator Brent Pry also begins his eighth season.
The return of Pry is critical in that his defenses have consistently ranked in the top-15 in creating havoc. From 2017 to 2019, Penn State ranked 10th, 11th and 10th, respectively, in defensive S&P+. Pry’s stop unit finished 14th in defensive S&P+ last year. Third-year special teams coordinator Joe Lorig has produced consecutive top-25 units and has another strong group in 2021.
Coach Franklin made an excellent hire in Mike Yurcich, whose last five offenses have all ranked eighth or higher in offensive S&P+ and averaged at least 38.4 points per game. Starting quarterback Sean Clifford is considered a ‘game manager’ but has been top-40 in Total QBR for two seasons (38th in 2020). The third-year starter has one of the nation’s best wide receiving corps to throw to and is supported by the deepest group of running backs in the Big Ten Conference.
Over the last eight seasons, 46 teams have suffered losing seasons despite outscoring their opponents. These team’s winning percentages improved by 13.3% the following season and they all produced profits against the Vegas number. Penn State qualifies under this system and should see significant improvement in 2021.
Penn State started last season with four consecutive losses for the first time in school history but finished with four straight wins (averaged 36.3 ppg). The Nittany Lions actually finished +102 yards per game despite posting a losing record (4-5) but were minus-10 in turnovers. Penn State suffered two losses in which it outgained its opponents by 200-plus yards.
The Nittany Lions also had the largest year over year swing in points off turnover margin so they are due for better luck this season. Grab the points with Penn State as Oskeim’s Free Pick Winner for Saturday, September 4. Be sure to check back daily for more free pick winners from the #1 ranked handicapper in the industry.