Where Penn State Ranks in the Too-Early Preseason Polls

Do college football pollsters expect Penn State to bounce back from 2020?

Penn State ranked No. 7 in the AP's 2020 preseason Top 25, trading on its 11-2 record and Cotton Bowl victory the previous season. But the Lions' season unraveled quickly with five consecutive losses before rebounding with a four-game winning streak.

After that, Penn State coach James Franklin embarked on a restoration project, adding three new assistant coaches (including offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich in a bold January move) and five players from the NCAA Transfer Portal.

So where does the college football world see Penn State fitting in this season? Here's a look at some of the early preseason poll numbers.

College Football News: No. 16

247Sports: No. 17

CBS Sports: No. 19

Bleacher Report: No. 20

NCAA.com: No. 21

Yardbarker: No. 22

ESPN: No. 23

Sporting News: No. 25

Athlon Sports: The next tier

Evidently, pollsters are willing to give Penn State a pass for 2020, since many too-early polls have the team returning to the top 25. The Lions return 19 starters, including nine on offense, from 2020 team and likely will have a third-year starting quarterback in Sean Clifford.

Eight returning players earned All-Big Ten nominations last season, with center Mike Miranda, receiver Jahan Dotson and left tackle Rasheed Walker being named to the second team. Dotson, Walker, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and safety Jaquan Brisker delayed their professional careers for one more year in college.

As always, quarterback play will be the hinge on which Penn State's season turns.

"Obviously, the quarterback work is very important," Franklin said during spring drills. "I think Sean’s done some really good things this spring. I think Mike [Yurcich] has really been impressed. From what I’ve seen, in terms of Sean’s approach, it’s really important to Sean. He works really hard at it. He prepares like you’re supposed to prepare.

"Then, you’ve got three somewhat inexperienced guys [Ta'Quan Roberson, Christian Veilleux and Mason Stahl] that need 1,000 reps. So we’ll be smart ... and have a very specific plan for summer camp so that, when we get to our first game, that we’re ready to hit on all cylinders."

Penn State's early schedule will force the team to establish itself quickly. The Lions open the season at Wisconsin on Sept. 4, host defending MAC champion Ball State on Sept. 11 and then entertain Auburn on Sept. 18 at Beaver Stadium for the first time in school history.

Here's the complete 2021 schedule:

Sept. 4: at Wisconsin

Sept. 11: Ball State

Sept. 18: Auburn

Sept. 25: Villanova

Oct. 2: Indiana

Oct. 9: at Iowa

Oct. 23: Illinois

Oct. 30: at Ohio State

Nov. 6: at Maryland

Nov. 13: Michigan

Nov. 20: Rutgers

Nov. 27: at Michigan State

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