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Penn State football: Where James Franklin’s Nittany Lions stack up in 2019 way-too-early rankings

For 128 FBS teams, the page turned to the 2019 season weeks, for some even months, ago. But all eyes weren’t focused on next season until Clemson put the finishing touches on an Alabama beatdown in Monday night’s national title game.

Now that’s over, it’s officially the college football offseason. And with it comes way-too-early top-25 rankings.

National outlets released their 2019 preseason projections in the hours and days following Clemson-Bama IV, and the Nittany Lions found themselves in all the major top-25 lists. However, with Trace McSorley and a crop of underclassmen leaving Happy Valley, there’s uncertainty surrounding Penn State in 2019, and that showed with a range of rankings.

The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel

Ranking: No. 21

Big Ten teams ahead: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 12 Michigan, No. 16 Iowa, No. 19 Northwestern

Reasoning: “WR KJ Hamler, LB Micah Parsons and DE Yetur Gross-Matos are proven standouts. But next season will test James Franklin’s recent recruiting classes after five Nittany Lions turned pro early, most notably RB Miles Sanders. Is former five-star Ricky Slade next in line? Fifth-year QB Tommy Stevens has long been expected to succeed Trace McSorley but is recovering from recent surgery.”

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach

Ranking: No. 17

Big Ten teams ahead: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 11 Michigan

Reasoning: “Life after McSorley begins for the Nittany Lions, who must replace the school’s all-time leading passer and winningest quarterback. It’s not going to be easy after a mass exodus of underclassmen to the NFL draft.”

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd

Ranking: No. 12

Big Ten teams ahead: No. 6 Ohio State, No. 10 Michigan

Reasoning: “The Lions continue to contend for Big Ten titles under James Franklin. There is some retooling to be done with the exit of Trace McSorley. But remember this name: Tommy Stevens. Watch out for road games at Michigan State and Ohio State.”

Sports Illustrated’s Scooby Axson

Ranking: No. 14

Big Ten teams ahead: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 7 Michigan

Reasoning: “Program legend Trace McSorley is gone, but the future still looks bright in Happy Valley. … Sacks leader Yetur Gross-Matos (eight sacks, 20 TFL) is back, and the secondary should again be a strength after holding its last five opponents under 200 passing yards.”

Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan

Ranking: No. 13

Big Ten teams ahead: No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Michigan

Reasoning: “The Nittany Lions are trending up under coach James Franklin after three consecutive seasons of at least nine victories. However, Franklin and his staff will have a busy offseason to maintain its place near the top of the Big Ten. … KJ Hamler is back after an impressive freshman campaign to lead the receiving corps, with tight end Pat Freiermuth likely to be an even bigger factor in the offense next fall.”

Yahoo! Sports

Ranking: No. 14

Big Ten teams ahead: No. 4 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan

Reasoning: “Has James Franklin recruited well enough that Penn State has become a program that doesn’t have to rebuild, but simply reload? In 2018, PSU integrated a lot of new faces and ended up as a distant third in the Big Ten East. … The defense lost a few linemen to the NFL as well, but has the potential to be one of the better units in the conference. Micah Parsons is the player to watch at linebacker.”

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