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7 Burning Questions for Penn State Nittany Lions Football in 2018

Who will replace Jason Cabinda at middle linebacker?

This is the question on every Nittany Lions faithful mind heading into the season. There’s a long list of candidates to take over for Cabinda, but no one stands out as a sure thing (at least not yet). Manny Bowen briefly returned, only to exit the program for good. Clay made the case for Jan Johnson, who along with Jake Cooper, at least has some experience. Ellis Brooks is a four-star prospect who will be entering his redshirt season, and will certainly see the field in some capacity this season. There’s also true freshman Jesse Luketa, another four-star prospect, who played well beyond his years at the Blue-White Game after enrolling early.

Despite what the depth chart says, it may take a few weeks into the season to test lineups before someone has a solid grasp on the starting spot.

Will Penn State’s offense miss Joe Moorhead?

Considering all Moorhead has done for Penn State, which was quite immense if you consider the pre-JoMo offenses of ‘14 and ‘15, it seems odd to brush off his departure for Mississippi State. But Penn State’s offense should be in good hands with Ricky Rahne, who spent time learning under Moorhead and helped prove himself as the play caller in the Fiesta Bowl. Penn State had its best offensive performance of the year against one of the nation’s best defenses by doing something that Moorhead shied away from- getting all of Penn State’s playmakers involved and keeping the defense on its toes, as opposed to stubbornly forcing everything through Saquon Barkley. Rahne has an excellent feel and understanding of this offense, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a three-year starter in Trace McSorley to lead the way on the field. With up-and-coming talent a each position and a potentially outstanding offensive line (more on that later), Penn State’s offense could reach new heights in 2018.

Which true freshman could see early action?

Brace yourselves, as this could be the most true freshmen we’ve seen hit the field in some time. Let’s start with the big three that highlighted the incredible 2018 class- linebacker Micah Parsons, wide receiver Justin Shorter and running back Ricky Slade. Parsons could become a full-time starter with a lack of experience at linebacker, while Shorter should become a regular part of the receiver rotation once he recovers from some preseason bumps and bruises. Not only will Shorter see time, he has the potential to eventually earn a starting job and become one of the teams leading receivers as a true freshman. He’s that good. Slade will be part of a crowded backfield, but could easily earn more time by making the most of his attempts as more backs share time in the post-Saquon Barkley era. Jesse Luketa also impressed at middle linebacker at the Blue-White game, and figures to get some reps with an eye on the starting position in 2019.

PJ Mustipher and Judge Culpepper have both turned heads and figure to be part of the rotation at defensive line. There’s also Jake Pinegar, who is hoping to nail down the starting job at placekicker to take over for Tyler Davis as a true freshman.

Then there’s Jahan Dotson– a four-star receiver who wasn’t expected to play a part in the offense in his first season. However, Dotson has continued to make plays and has become the buzz of preseason camp.

Don’t forget about the NCAA’s new rule that will begin in 2018- freshmen can now play in up to four games throughout the course of the season without using a redshirt. So expect to see just about everyone at some point or another just so they can get a taste of the collegiate game before entering their first official year of full eligibility in 2019.

What exactly will Tommy Stevens role be in 2018?

Hopefully much more substantial than in 2017 (at least once he’s out of the walking boot) as the team’s ‘LION.’ Touchdown Tommy quickly developed into a fan favorite as part of a dual-quarterback package when he would share the backfield with Trace McSorley. The quirky lineup succeeded in keeping defenses on its toes, thanks to Stevens ability to pass, run and catch. However, it bizarrely vanished from the playbook in tight losses to Ohio State and Michigan State when the offense was completely out of sorts and had no easy way to move the ball.

At one point during the offseason, it seemed perfectly logical that Stevens would be leaving State College as a graduate transfer to have two full seasons as a starting quarterback under his belt. However, Stevens nixed the rumors and declared he is 100 percent in as a Nittany Lion. However, it seems likely that Stevens would have discussed carving out a more prominent and regular role in the Penn State offense this season before making his final decision.

Is this finally the year the offensive line becomes a strength?

It damn well better be. We’ve been saying this for the last few years, but the offensive line finally seems set up for success and become one of the best in the Big Ten. The roster is loaded with blue chip prospects who have now had time to learn the offense and spend a couple offseasons in the weight room. They’ve shown progress over the last few years, although it hasn’t happened nearly as quick as Penn State fans were hoping. This seems to be the time where everything can come together for the Nittany Lions to have a dominant offensive line for the first time since 2008.

Can Penn State win the Big Ten?

It’s a tough road for the Nittany Lions, but they certainly shouldn’t be counted out. First off, Penn State has to replace an immense amount of production on both sides of the ball. While the offense should be in fine shape with the emergence of young talent waiting in the wings led by Trace McSorley, the defense has some serious question marks, especially at linebacker, defensive tackle and safety. Even if the newcommers don’t skip a beat, the Nittany Lions are still in the toughest division in college football, where Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State could all come away with a Big Ten crown and playoff berth. There’s also a brutal six-game stretch with showdowns against Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana (away), Iowa, Michigan (away) and Wisconsin.

We’ll see what this team is made out of between Sept. 29 and Nov. 10, that’s for sure.

Can Trace McSorley win the Heisman?

Yes he can. Stanford running back Bryce Love enters the season as a the frontrunner, but that all can change in an instant. Plus, the Heisman has evolved into a (mostly) quarterback award. McSorley will have several high-profile games in front of a huge national audience, giving him many opportunities to win over voters and produce that ever-elusive “Heisman moment.” These are the moments when McSorley thrives, and if the Nittany Lions keep winning and remain in the playoff picture, QB9 will put up the numbers and create those highlight-reel plays to keep him near the top of the list throughout the season.

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