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Penn State Nittany Lions 2021 College Football Team Breakdown (Depth Chart, Schedule & Betting Preview)

Matt Gajewski



James Franklin's comments this week were the nail in the coffin, as fans are now fully convinced he's leaving Penn State after the year

No. 20 Penn State Nittany Lions

2020 Record: 4-5
Returning Starters: Offense No. 9, Defense No. 7
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Key Metrics and Personnel

  • Head Coach — James Franklin (60-28)
  • Offensive Coordinator — Mike Yurcich
  • Defensive Coordinator — Anthony Poindexter & Brent Pry
  • Points/Game — 29.8 (52nd)
  • Plays/Game — 73.8 (44th) Texas numbers/ 81.9 (3rd)
  • Pass Rate — 49.86 (42nd) / 45.45 (76th)
  • Yards/Att R — 5.3 (16th) / 3.9 (85th)
  • Yards/Att P — 8.1 (32nd) / 7.5 (57th)
  • Yards/Att Allowed R — 3.7 (29th)
  • Yards Att Allowed P — 6.7 (25th)
  • Points Allowed/Game — 27.7 (55th)
  • Vegas Win Total – 8.5, Over -125, Under +105


Franklin has coached Penn State since 2014. Yurcich comes over after one season as offensive coordinator at Texas. Poindexter comes from Purdue and coaches defensive backs. Brent Pry has been defensive coordinator and linebackers coach since 2016.

Recruiting Class: No. 21

Top Recruits:

  • Landon Tengwall — OT — No. 53
  • Kalen King — CB — No. 235
  • Jaylen Reed — S — No. 269
  • Zakee Wheatley — S — No. 319
  • Lonnie White — WR — No. 168
  • Davon Townley — DL — No. 322


John Lovett (Baylor), Eric Wilson (Harvard), Arnold Ebiketie (Temple), Derrick Tangelo (Duke), John Dixon (South Carolina), A.J. Lytton (Florida State)

Daily Fantasy Players to Watch

QB Sean Clifford, WR Jahan Dotson

Penn State Nittany Lions Depth Chart

Offense: 9 Returning Starters

  • QB: Sean Clifford, Ta’Quan Roberson
  • RB: Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee
  • WR1: Parker Washington, Lonnie White
  • WR2: KeAndre Lambert-Smith, Daniel George
  • WR3: Jahan Dotson, Cam Sullivan-Brown
  • TE: Brenton Strange, Theo Johnson
  • LT: Rasheed Walker
  • LG: Des Holmes, Eric Wilson
  • C: Mike Miranda
  • RG: Juice Scruggs, Anthony Whigan
  • RT: Caedan Wallace, Bryce Effner

Defense: 7 Returning Starters

  • Edge: Arnold Ebiketie, Nick Tarburton
  • DT: P.J. Mustipher, Derrick Tangelo
  • DT: Hakeem Beamon
  • Edge: Adisa Isaac, Smith Vilbert
  • LB: Brandon Smith, Johnny Dixon
  • LB: Ellis Brooks
  • CB: Tariq Castro-Fields
  • CB: Joey Porter
  • CB-N Marquis Wilson
  • S: Jaquan Brisker
  • S: Ji’Ayir Brown
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Penn State Nittany Lions Breakdown

Penn State finished 4-5 last year despite outscoring their opponents. They dropped their first five games to Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland, Nebraska and Iowa before beating Michigan, Rutgers, Michigan State and Illinois. Penn State rotated quarterbacks between Will Levis and Sean Clifford. Levis has now transferred, but Clifford Clifford completed 60.5% of his passes for 1,890 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He faced pressure on 25.2% of his dropbacks. He is a solid runner, though, with 335 yards and three touchdowns on 99 attempts last year. Ta’Quan Roberson is the presumed backup right now. He was a four-star dual threat from the 2018 class. Christian Veilleux is a three-star from the incoming class.

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At running back Journey Brown’s retirement still looms large. Noah Cain suffered a season-ending injury and only carried three times. He rushed for 443 yards and eight touchdowns on 84 attempts as a freshman in 2019. Last year’s leading rusher, Keyvone Lee, is also back after recording 438 yards and four touchdowns on 89 attempts. Devyn Ford and Caziah Holmes also are still with the program, and John Lovett transferred in from Baylor.

Wide receiver returns a lot of depth with Jahan Dotson. Last year’s leading receiver, Dotson caught 52 passes for 884 yards and eight touchdowns. Dotson played 92.7% of his snaps in the slot. Parker Washington returns for his sophomore season after catching 36 passes for 489 yards and six touchdowns. Washington emerged down the stretch for Penn State. KeAndre Lambert-Smith is the favorite for WR3 duties, but Daniel George and Cam Sullivan-Brown will likely play a role. Smith caught 15 passes for 138 yards as a freshman last year. George and Sullivan-Brown are both in their fourth years after producing little during their careers. They also get high-profile recruit Lonnie White, who is a four-star and the No. 27 receiver in this class. Former four-star Jaden Dottin is also there, but he finished well behind Lambert and Washington last year.

The tight end position should be clear, with Pat Freiermuth moving to the NFL. Last year Brenton Strange finished fourth on the team in receiving, with 17 catches for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He spent 40.7% of his snaps in the slot. They also have Theo Johnson, who plays more of the traditional in-line tight end position but still flexed into the slot on 37% of his snaps. He will allow Penn State to run a bunch of two-tight-end sets again if they want.

Penn State ranked 43rd in pass blocking last year. Rasheed Walker is back at left tackle after starting three straight years. Des Holmes should compete with Eric Wilson from Harvard at left guard. Mike Miranda should become the new center with Michal Menet gone. Juice Scruggs should play right guard, and Caedan Wallace should play right tackle. Will Fries was their best blocker last year, but all of them were solid.

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On defense Penn State returns seven starters. They lost Jayson Oweh, Shaka Toney, Micah Parsons, Antonio Shelton, Shane Simmons and Lamont Wade. On the defensive line they return P.J. Mustipher and add transfers Arnold Ebiketie and Derrick Tangelo. Ellis Brooks, Jesse Luketa, Brandon Smith and Curtis Jacobs return at linebacker, and Penn State gets Tariq Castro-Fields, Keaton Ellis, JaQuan Brisker and Ja’Ayir Brown in the defensive backfield. This defense has no All-Conference players returning, but Castro-Fields did get hurt last year.

Penn State 2021 Football Schedule

  • Sept. 4 Wisconsin 12:00 p.m. Away
  • Sept. 11 Ball State 3:30 p.m. Home
  • Sept. 18 Auburn 7:30 p.m. Home
  • Sept. 25 Villanova 1:00 p.m. Home
  • Oct. 2 Indiana 1:00 p.m. Home
  • Oct. 9 Iowa 1:00 p.m. Away
  • Oct. 23 Illinois 1:00 p.m. Home
  • Oct. 30 Ohio State 1:00 p.m. Away
  • Nov. 06 Maryland 1:00 p.m. Away
  • Nov. 13 Michigan 12:00 p.m. Home
  • Nov. 20 Rutgers 12:00 p.m. Home
  • Nov. 27 Michigan State 12:00 p.m. Away

Penn State Football Betting Outlook

Penn State draws away games against Iowa and Wisconsin in the West. They also face Auburn and Ball State in non-conference play. In the East they are away at Ohio State and Maryland but draw Michigan and Indiana at home. Ball State, Villanova, Illinois, Rutgers and Michigan State should be wins. Lean under on 8.5.

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Matt Gajewski graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in Economics. Matt has worked in the fantasy industry for the past four years, focusing on DFS and Sports Betting. Matt specializes in NFL, College Football, College Basketball, XFL, and MMA. With GPP victories across the major sports, Matt also qualified for the DraftKings 2020 Sports Betting Championship and won a seat to the College Basketball Tourney Mania final.

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