Two very different routes ended up landing Penn State at roughly the same spot in the polls.
Though the 2017 season didn’t play out as dramatically as 2016 for the Nittany Lions, their Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington earned them their second straight top-10 finish with an 11-2 record.
Penn State checked in at No. 8 in the final AP poll and coaches poll, both of which were released Tuesday following Alabama’s national title win over Georgia.
It’s the 24th time in program history that the Lions finished in the AP top 10 and the first time they have done it in back-to-back seasons since 2008 and 2009. They were No. 7 at the end of the 2016 season.
The Lions hadn’t finished in the top eight in consecutive years since 1993 and the undefeated 1994 season.
It was the 16th time Penn State won 11 games in a season.
Before the final 2017 polls even came out, naturally Las Vegas weighed in on the 2018 season.
Penn State checks in with the sixth best odds to win next year’s national championship, according to the Westgate SuperBook. The Lions are a 12-1 shot, behind only Alabama (5-2), Clemson (6-1), Georgia (8-1), Ohio State (8-1) and Michigan (12-1).
Though the Lions lose an enormous amount of production on offense between starters Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton, they have four- and five-star talents ready to step in and work with a senior starting quarterback in Trace McSorley.
Bigger question marks may be on the defensive side, where the Lions will have to replace the entire middle of the unit — both tackles, the middle linebacker and both safeties.
Beginning this week, the NCAA will allow schools to add a 10th full-time assistant coach to their staffs. For Penn State, that will mean hiring a running backs coach to replace Charles Huff, who followed Joe Moorhead to Mississippi State last month.
Coach James Franklin’s original plan was to promote defensive consultant Phil Galiano as the 10th assistant, but that move came earlier because of the departure of Huff. Galiano took over Huff’s role as special teams coordinator and is also helping coach the defensive line along with Sean Spencer.
Graduate assistant Mark Dupuis coached the running backs through the Fiesta Bowl.
This week provides plenty of opportunities for interviewing potential candidates, as much of the college football world is gathered in Charlotte, N.C., for the annual AFCA Convention.
Though it’s not necessarily an indication of where they stand as candidates, Franklin has recently connected with three coaches who have experience working with running backs via Twitter. They are Indianapolis Colts running backs coach Jemal Singleton, Army West Point assistant David Corley and Ja’Juan Seider, who coached running backs for Jim McElwain last season at Florida and reportedly has a spot on Dan Mullen’s new staff.
Penn State ended up landing 22 players during December’s early signing window — 21 announced on the first day and New Jersey defensive lineman Jayson Oweh kept it under wraps until announcing last week at the Under Armour All-America Game.
Of those 22, six graduated high school a semester early and are already enrolled at Penn State, starting classes this week.
Fortunately for the Lions, three of those new players are at a position of great need — linebacker — as Jesse Luketa, Micah Parsons and Nick Tarburton will get a head start on competing for a spot.
The other three are tight end Zack Kuntz and defensive backs Isaiah Humphries and Trent Gordon.