Media sees contender in PSU

ASSOCIATED PRESS Coach James Franklin’s Nittany Lions enter the season No. 6 in the coaches’ poll.

STATE COLLEGE — Penn State started off 2-2 last season, and the Nittany Lions went on a remarkable nine-game winning streak and won the Big Ten Conference championship before losing a wild 52-49 Rose Bowl game to USC.

Now what? How will the Lions, who have most of their starters back from that team, follow up such a breakout year?

Will the offense be even more explosive than last season?

Can the Lions stay healthy this season? Can the defense improve, despite the loss of linebacker Brandon Bell and defensive ends Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan?

Can Penn State win at Ohio State?

How many times will running back Saquon Barkley be asked about being a Heisman Trophy candidate?

All of those questions are factors when predicting how the Lions will do this season.

Different media members at Saturday’s Penn State media day for their predictions, and nine of them figured the Lions would go 10-2. Five predicted 11-1, and three went with 9-3.

They were all asked to give a comment to back up their picks, which you will see below. Many said that the Oct. 28 game at Ohio State could result in a loss for the Lions, with road games at Iowa (Sept. 23) and Northwestern) Oct. 7 also resulting in possible losses.

Ben Brigandi, Williamsport Sun-Gazette: 11-1. Comment: Talented enough to beat everyone but Ohio State. But unless two Big Ten teams go to the playoff or Ohio State stumbles big, it probably won’t be enough.

Philip Cmor, Altoona Mirror: Prediction: 11-1. Comment: “Actually, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the Lions run the table, but it’s hard to pick an undefeated season. The Lions should be looking forward to paying back Pitt and Michigan, and the visit to Columbus already has an epic feel to it.”

Cory Giger, Altoona Mirror: Record: 10-2. Comment: “The Lions are now the hunted and will get everyone’s best shot week in and week out, which is something they’ll have to be prepared for. The offense has a lot of weapons and should be terrific, but I have concerns about the defense, which will allow a lot of points. I see a loss at Ohio State, with the other loss potentially coming on the road at either Iowa or Northwestern.”

Todd Irwin, Altoona Mirror: Record: 11-1. Comment: “If the offense picks up where it left off last year, the Lions will be hard to beat at home and on the road, even in Columbus. The secondary has to improve, as the Rose Bowl pointed out, and the defense has to stay healthy, particularly at linebacker.”

Neil Rudel, Altoona Mirror: Record: 10-2. Comment: “The Lions will be able to score, but how many people will they stop? I’m thinking 10-2 with a loss in Columbus and one more along the Big Ten road, maybe Northwestern. The schedule should play tougher, and the Lions won’t be able to catch anybody napping.”

Mark Brennan, Record: 10-2. Comment: “I think one of the key differences with Penn State this year is they’re going to be the hunted. They’re coming in as Big Ten champs, and they’re going to take everybody’s best shot. I think that game out at Ohio State is going to be really difficult. Ohio State has a bye before that game, and Urban Meyer is going to have his team ready to go. And I think somebody else will get them along the way.”

Gordon Brunskill, Centre Daily Times: Record: 9-3. Comment: “Despite everything the team did last year, I’m not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet. There are too many small question marks that leave me doubting, especially with some of the position changes. Plus, they are not as lucky with the schedule this year, having to go to Iowa City and Columbus, and having to face Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State back-to-back-to-back.”

Brian Carson, Record: 10-2. Comment: “They’re a powerful team offensively, but they’re a little suspect in the secondary. I think the Ohio State game will be the game that they drop, and either Iowa or Northwestern on the road will be their trip-up game. Even with the 10-2, I still think they have a chance to get into that National Championship picture.”

Alex Cawley, WTAJ-TV: Record: 11-1. Comment: “Ohio State in the Horseshoe is going to be the tough one. That’s going to be the one everyone is watching. That’s the one Ohio State has circled, in addition, obviously, to their Michigan game. I think Ohio State has a chip on their shoulder after last season.”

Jed Donahue, PASportsNetwork: Record: 10-2. Comment: “I think beating Ohio State in Columbus will be a tall task, and I think that Iowa or Northwestern trip could be daunting. It has nothing to do with talent. I think this team is really good, but if somebody is going to get them on the road, I think it’s going to be Ohio State.”

Bob Flounders, Record: 9-3. Comment: “I think the schedule is tough. A lot of things went right for them last year. I think they could be a better team, but their record won’t be quite as good. The game at Ohio State is tough, and I think the Northwestern game will be a really big challenge. The one thing I’m looking forward to seeing is how they adjust when their depth gets tested, because I think their depth is better.”

Travis Johnson, The Associated Press: Record: 11-1. Comment: “They’ve got playmakers galore. I think the coaching staff has some stability, and the lines of communication are clear on a team like this. This is a team here ready to compete, and they will.”

Kari Osep, WJAC-TV: Record: 10-2. Comment: “I think they’ll take two losses during the regular season, and I don’t know if they’ll make it to the Big Ten Championship Game, but they’ll get a bowl game win.”

Greg Pickel, Record: 9-3. Comment: “Last year was an incredible season, certainly, but I think the schedule leads itself to a loss or two in that three-game run of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. I think the trip to Iowa is tricky. I think the trip to Northwestern is tricky. I wouldn’t rule out 10-2 or better, but 9-3 just feels right.”

Rich Scarcella, Reading Eagle: Record: 10-2. Comment: “I wouldn’t rule out 11-1, but I have questions about the defense, especially stopping the run. If the defense, especially the defensive line, can do a very effective job of stopping the run, I think it can be an 11-1 season, and they can be right in the mix for everything.”

Audrey Snyder, Record: 10-2. Comment: “I’ve been on the fence between 11-1 and 10-2, but I’m going to go with 10-2. To me, the question is the defense. In particular, what will this defensive line do? Offensively, they’re going to put up a lot of points. Ohio State is going to be a tough one, and that stretch from October 7 with Northwestern until November against Michigan State is a brutal stretch.”

Mark Wogenrich, Allentown Morning Call: Record: 10-2. Comment: “I see the potential for 11 wins, but it’s just so difficult to win at Ohio State, and there’s always a stumble, always a game you don’t expect. That second loss is going to come, maybe it’s Iowa, Northwestern or Michigan State.