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100 Reasons to Be Excited About Penn State Football

The countdown begins to Penn State's 2022 football season. Consider looking for your misplaced optimism.

What time is it on the Penn State football clock? Time for fresh starts and fresh hope. Time to renew the love affair. Time to start the countdown clock to Penn State's 2022 football season.

Penn State opens the season Sept. 1 at Purdue, which promises an entertaining start to a provocative campaign. Despite their 11-11 record over the past two years, the Lions bring a healthy dose of confidence (backed by preparation) to this season.

To help set the mood for, and pass the time until, the 2022 season begins, let's take a tour of the program. Here are 100 reasons to be excited about Penn State football in 2022.

1. Head coach James Franklin begins the season with a new 10-year contract that (probably) will quiet the Franklin-to-Wherever speculation that surfaces every two years.

2. Franklin said he thinks the program is "closer than ever" to achieving the competitive, financial, and administrative alignment he has sought since 2014.

3. Franklin also turned 50 this year but remains much the same coach who arrived at Penn State promising to "dominate the state."

4. Penn State returns 38 letterwinners.

5. The Lions return 12 players with starting experience: six on offense, five on defense and one on special teams.

6. Despite losing two starters to the NFL, the secondary should be among the best in the Big Ten.

7. Quarterback Sean Clifford returns as a fourth-year starter and likely four-time captain.

8. Jonathan Sutherland, also a likely four-time captain, has embraced his move from safety to linebacker, where he's a projected starter.

9. Safety Ji'Ayir Brown, who led the nation with six interceptions last season, is following the Jaquan Brisker model of returning with the goal of becoming one of the nation's top defensive backs.

10. Franklin said that defensive tackle PJ Mustipher was ahead in his rehab from a 2021 injury. Mustipher's timely return would boost Penn State's restructured defensive line. 

11. Penn State opens the season Sept. 1 at Purdue, playing the first Thursday-night game in school history.

12. Penn State also plays at Indiana this season. The last time they visited Purdue and Indiana in the same season, the Lions also went to Indianapolis, beating Wisconsin in the 2016 Big Ten title game.

13. New Penn State Athletic Director Patrick Kraft is good friends with former Nittany Lion Matt Rhule.

14. The Lions play at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time.

15. Halloween weekend at home vs. Ohio State!

16. Um, a Big Noon Whiteout? Possible, if Ohio State is the Whiteout opponent and Fox Sports has the broadcast.

Penn State Whiteout

The 2022 Penn State Whiteout game potentially could be a noon start against Ohio State.

17. In three of the four seasons it won the Big Ten title, Penn State played Ohio State at home.

18. Penn State's Big Ten West crossover games vs. Northwestern and Minnesota both are at home. The Lions are a combined 12-4 at home against the programs.

19. Franklin has a chance to get his bowl record back above .500. He's currently 5-5.

20. Clifford should become the first quarterback in Penn State history to throw for 10,000 career yards.

21. Clifford has the opportunity to rewrite the school's career passing records in multiple ways, including the mark for career completion percentage.

22. For the first time as a starter, Clifford is working with the same offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, for the second consecutive year.

23. Still not convinced? Both Franklin and Clifford said the quarterback had his best spring at Penn State.

24. Yurcich is salty about 2021's offensive results and, as a result, wouldn't reflect on them this past spring. "If I go back to last year, I think it's a distraction and I don't think it's pertinent to our mission," Yurcich said. He seems mission-driven.

25. Penn State's quarterback room is notably better than last year, when depth issues derailed the team mid-season.

26. Christian Veilleux is 1-0 as a (de facto) starting quarterback. He replaced starter Sean Clifford, who was sick, against Rutgers, leading the Lions to a 28-0 win over Rutgers.

27. Keyvone Lee and his fellow running backs spent the spring focused on gaining more yards after contact, a major offensive need.

28. Franklin said the 2022 recruiting class might have more freshmen ready to play early than any he has put together.

29. That 2022 Penn State recruiting class ranked sixth nationally, according to Sports Illustrated.

30. Four members of the class were ranked in the final SI99 of the 2022 cycle: Quarterback Drew Allar (14), running back Nicholas Singleton (23), defensive lineman Dani Dennis-Sutton (25) and receiver Kaden Saunders (75).

31. Ten scholarship players, including eight true freshmen, enrolled in January and participated in spring drills.

32. Singleton could prove to be among the most exciting freshmen in the Big Ten this season.

33. What about Devyn Ford? The third-year running back could be an under-the-radar player for Penn State's offense. He looked quite strong in the Blue-White Game.

34. Parker Washington, Penn State's top returning receiver, caught 64 passes for 820 yards last season.

35. Washington has caught a pass in all 22 games of his career.

36. By the way, did you know Washington plays the cello?

37. Receiver is among Penn State's deeper positions, with KeAndre  Lambert-Smith and younger players such as Malick Meiga and Harrison Wallace III ready to emerge.

38. Clifford could complete a pass for the first time to younger brother Liam Clifford, a redshirt freshman.

39. Sean Clifford's roommate this past spring was receiver Mitchell Tinsley, who transferred from Western Kentucky.

40. Tinsley caught 87 passes for the nation's most prolific passing offense in 2021.

41. Clifford said Tinsley reminds him in many ways of Jahan Dotson. So naturally, Tinsley is wearing No. 5.

42. Receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield, who said he came to Penn State looking for some career stability, enters his third season on staff.

43. Juice Scruggs, an All-Big Ten guard, is moving to his natural position at center.

44. Franklin likes what he has at tackle with Olu Fashanu and Caedan Wallace. They're the projected starters this season.

45. Cornell transfer Hunter Nourzad was an FCS All-American at guard last season. Penn State is looking for starting guards.

46. Lineman Sal Wormley returns after missing the 2021 season with an injury. He was the Developmental Squad Offensive Player of the Year in 2019.

47. Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein, now in his third season, is beginning to introduce his recruits into the line rotation.

48. Redshirt freshman Landon Tengwall, the Lions' highest-rated player of the 2021 class, is among them. Watch for Tengwall at guard.

49. We could see more of lineman Nick Dawkins, whose father is the late 76ers legend Darryl Dawkins.

50. Expecting a bounceback for Penn State's tight ends? Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson and Tyler Warren all return.

51. Huge defensive news: Defensive end Adisa Isaac, who missed last season with an injury, is back and healthy. The Lions expect him to be a force on the edge.

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52. Isaac played in 20 games during the 2019-20 seasons, making 1.5 sacks.

53. More defensive news: Tackle Hakeem Beamon, who also missed the 2021 season, is back to establish his presence in the rotation.

54. The Lions added a needed edge rusher in Demeioun Robinson, a transfer from Maryland.

55. Penn State landed a prize in the coaching transfer portal: defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the former Miami head coach

56. Diaz nurtures playmakers: His Miami defenses from 2018-20 had at least one player with 15 tackles for loss.

57. Penn State defensive players spent the spring watching Diaz's defenses at Miami. In particular, the linebackers liked the way Diaz deployed them in Miami's defense.

58. Sutherland won raves during spring drills after moving from safety to linebacker full-time.

59. Curtis Jacobs expects his athleticism to be on full display at the Will linebacker position.

60. Joey Porter Jr. is a potential first-round draft pick at cornerback.

Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr.

Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is an All-America candidate in 2022.

61. The King twins, Kalen and Kobe, could start together in the same defense. Kalen King is a leading contender at cornerback, and Kobe is competing for the middle linebacker spot.

62. Middle linebacker Tyler Elsdon earned praise from teammates and coaches this spring and will compete with Kobe King for the starting job.

63. Jaylen Reed and Zakee Wheatley, a pair of second-year safeties, were among the top defensive playmakers during spring drills. Wheatley, the spring takeaways leader, transitioned from cornerback to safety.

64. Penn State had the third-ranked pass defense in the Big Ten last season.

65. After starting eight games last season, defensive end Nick Tarburton won the program's Tim Shaw Thrive Award.

66. Anthony Poindexter, safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator, returned to Penn State after interviewing for the Virginia job. 

67. Penn State has one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the Big Ten in Daequan Hardy.

68. New special teams coordinator Stacy Collins says he's "extremely aggressive" in kick-blocking schemes. That fits, since Penn State blocked a pair of kicks last season.

69. Kicker Jake Pinegar, the team's one-time starter, said he's healthy after being limited by an injury last season.

70. Pinegar made 11 of 12 field goals in 2019.

71. Fellow scholarship kicker Sander Sahaydak had a competitive spring and likely has the team's strongest leg.

72. Long snapper Chris Stoll returns for his sixth season. Don't underestimate the value of an experienced long snapper.

73. Who might replace punter Jordan Stout? Watch for freshman Alex Bacchetta, the nation's top-ranked high school punter.

74. Gabriel Nwosu is a 6-6, 278-pound kicker/punter. According to Penn State's media guide, Nwosu was a five-star kicking recruit per Kohl's Kicking.

75. Jordan van den Berg, a former rugby player from South Africa, made spring gains on Penn State's defensive line.

76. Running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider continues to recruit Florida extremely well. Seider is No. 4 in 247Sports' recruiting rankings.

77. Penn State has three assistants in the 247Sports recruiting top 25: Trautwein (13) and tight ends coach Ty Howle (23).

78. Strength coach Chuck Losey's mustache.

Penn State Strength Coach Chuck Losey

Chuck Losey replaced Dwight Galt III as head of Penn State's strength and conditioning program.

79. Fans can join two Penn State sports collectives: Success With Honor and Nittany Commonwealth. Both are hosting player meets and other events. 

80. Penn State Lift for Life, the player-run charity event that benefits the rare disease community, returns to its in-person format June 30 at the Lasch Practice Fields.

81. Penn State can win its second straight game at Michigan Stadium. The Lions haven't won in consecutive visits to Ann Arbor since 1994-96.

82. November in Piscataway. Penn State visits Rutgers on Nov. 19. The Lions are 7-0 all-time at Rutgers.

83. The 2022 schedule features nine bowl teams, including three of the first four opponents.

84. Penn State has a chance to become just the seventh FBS program to win 920 games. The Lions currently have 909 wins.

85. History is on Franklin's side at home. Penn State is 39-8 at Beaver Stadium since 2015.

86. Nine members of Penn State's football staff played for the program.

87. Among them is new defensive analyst Dan Connor, an All-American linebacker in the 2000s.

88. Graduate assistant Deion Barnes works with the defensive linemen. He and assistant recruiting coordinator Alan Zemaitis, both former players, have energized the recruiting program.

89. Danny Rocco, another former Penn State player and recently the head coach at Delaware, joined the staff as an analyst.

90. Did you know former NFL coach Ken Whisenhunt is on Penn State's staff? The former Steelers assistant and Cardinals/Titans head coach is an analyst.

91. For Penn State football's Canadian fans, two Lions hail from Quebec: Meiga and linebacker Frederik Lesieur.

92. Jaden Seider, son of running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider, is a redshirt junior safety.

93. Tank Smith, the aptly named running back, returns for his redshirt junior season. Smith (5-7, 226) is a nephew of associate head coach Terry Smith.

94. Former quarterback Mason Stahl, who nearly started the Rutgers game last year, joined the receivers room. He caught a 36-yard pass in the Blue-White Game.

95. Former Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December.

96. Penn State's new athletic director receives a $100,000 bonus if the Lions make the College Football Playoff semifinals. 

97. Before attending the home opener Sept. 10 against Ohio, you can hit golf balls inside Beaver Stadium this summer.

98. Franklin's coaching tree takes center stage Sept. 2, when Virginia Tech (led by Brent Pry) visits Old Dominion (led by Ricky Rahne).

99. Franklin's winning percentage (71.6) since 2016 ranks ninth among current FBS head coaches.

100. Franklin needs nine wins to reach 100 for his career as a head coach.

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AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.