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Penn State Football in 2019: All the Numbers Point to a Rebuild & Not a Reload

by on January 17, 2019 8:00 PM

Now that the dust has settled on Transfer Portal Week, let’s see where Penn State’s roster stands heading into the 2019 season.

Will James Franklin be able to reload?

Or must he rebuild?

I’m guessing the latter.

Especially with the Nittany Lion offense, which in many ways limped to the finish line in 2018. It averaged just 24.1 points over the final eight games of the season and four times going under that number (7, 17, 20 and 22).

And that was with Ryan Bates and Connor McGovern blocking for Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders — all four whom are now gone. That quartet had started 124 games for PSU.

The Nittany Lion offense returns just 41% of its overall production from last season (2,263 of 5,502 yards). That’s rushing yards (459 of 2,667 returning) and receiving yards (1,804 of 2,835) combined. Quarterbacks Tommy Stevens and Sean Clifford threw for just 305 of those yards in 2018.

Take a look at the chart below. 

The Nittany Lions’ returning production on offense is its lowest ever for a Penn State team coached by Franklin.

Starting experience will be at a premium, as well.

Overall, Penn State has 21 players back who — combined — have 192 starts; 94 on offense and 98 on defense. But, 10 of those have four starts or less in their PSU careers. That’s not quite sanction era inexperience, but it continues a downward trajectory.

(Franklin loses, through various means and avenues, 15 players who had a combined 300 career starts.)

Compare that to Penn State’s squad in 2017:

That season, the Nittany Lions went 11-2 and lost to Ohio State and Michigan State by four points with a roster that began 2017 with 359 career starts. That experience, coupled with a rushing game that returned 99% of its yardage, and a QB corps that returned 100% of its passing yards, points to a big lost opportunity for a berth in the College Football Playoffs that may not come around again for awhile.

The bottom-line is that Franklin has an even bigger rebuilding job than Joe Paterno did after two of Penn State’s greatest seasons ever, one pre-Big Ten and the other while in the conference.

Check out the chart below, which points to the Nittany Lions’ returning numbers after the 1982 season — when the Lions passed for more yards than they ran for the first time in school history on their way to a national title — and after the 1994 season, when they had one of the most prolific offenses in NCAA history and went 12-0.

In reloading with proven offensive production, Franklin and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne have a tougher task than either the ’82 or ’94 staffs. In all three situations, the PSU offense was/is breaking in a new starting quarterback.

REASON TO BE DEFENSIVE

Heading into 2019, things are not all that bleak for Brent Pry’s defense, where the Nittany Lions return 4 of their top 5 tacklers from 2018; 7 of their top 11; and 14 of their top 20.

In many ways, the pure numbers on the 2019 Penn State roster indicate how big of a challenge CJF will have as he enters as Year No. 6 at PSU.

Of the 123 players on the 2018 regular season-ending roster against Maryland, it looks like 36 will not be returning — if everyone in the Transfer Portal doesn’t do an about-face and return to Happy Valley.

That number — which includes graduates, grad transfers, and announced and unannounced transfers — jumps to 38 if you count the medical retirements and departures of Torrence Brown and Ryan Buchholz.

It’s a huge number, indeed — and in deed (the idea of leaving Happy Valley). In total, that’s a turnover rate of almost 31%. Too high if you are striving for stability.

Its impact will not just be felt on the field.

By losing so many players — over half having exhausted their eligibility — there’s an impact in the Nittany Lion locker room, on the practice field, with the scout team and in the meeting rooms. Franklin & Co. have had a stellar 31-9 record over the past three years, so there’s a certain way of doing things that has been established. And doing things successfully.

A big chunk of that culture has departed.

And that — even more than the raw numbers — may be tougher to replace.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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Penn State Football: Unpacking Transfer Portal Madness
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Penn State Football: Unpacking Transfer Portal Madness
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