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Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

College Football preview: Building on success

Posted by Eric Fisher On September - 1 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Penn State, Temple and Penn won at least a share of their conference titles last year. All could be in contention for championships again this season.

The Owls will try to continue their recent success with a new head coach after Matt Rhule left for Baylor. Villanova, which saw Andy Talley retire after 32 seasons as head coach, and Delaware also enter the season with new head coaches. But that doesn’t mean those teams won’t experience success. In fact, it will be considered a disappointment if Villanova doesn’t reach the postseason.

The highest expectations are for Penn State, which enters the season ranked sixth in the nation. Running back Saquon Barkley should be on the short list for the Heisman Trophy as Penn State tries to exceed the standard set during last year’s surprisingly successful season, which saw the Nittany Lions fall just short of making the national championship playoffs.

The following is a preview of our local FCS and FBS college football teams.


Head coach: James Franklin, 4th season as Penn State’s head coach

Last year’s record: 11-3

Season opener: Saturday (noon) vs. Akron

Analysis: Penn State enters the season ranked 6th in the nation. A major reason for that ranking is the Nittany Lions’ explosive offense. Offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead has Heisman Trophy candidate Saquon Barkley (272 carries for 1,496 yards, 18 TDs) at his disposal, as well as quarterback Trace McSorley and 6-foot-5 tight end Mike Gesicki (48 receptions for 679 yards, 5 TDs). Barkley is a powerful runner with speed and great vision. McSorley (224 for 387, 29 TDs, 8 interceptions) is a gambler, but appears to be a tremendous leader.

McSorley lost receiver Chris Godwin, so DaeSean Hamilton, Saeed Blacknall, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins will need to step up. One of the most amazing aspects of Penn State’s nine-game winning streak, which moved the Nittany Lions into the national title picture after a 2-2 start, is that the offensive line wasn’t particularly good. The line is a little more experienced this year, which should help create more holes for Barkley.

There are a lot of new faces on Penn State’s defense, which lost defensive end Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan. Shareef Miller and Torrence Brown are listed as the starters at defensive end. Curtis Cothran and Parker Cathren plug the middle at defensive tackle. If they can contain blockers, middle linebacker Jason Cabinda will be freed up to make plays. Safety Marcus Allen once again anchors the secondary.

Prediction: It’s difficult to believe that head coach James Franklin was on the hot seat after opening last season 2-2. The question is whether the Nittany Lions can continue the momentum that they built up the rest of the season. I never thought the Nittany Lions were better than Ohio State or Michigan last season; however, barring a serious injury to Barkley or McSorley, there doesn’t seem to be a reason why Penn State can’t be in contention for a second straight Big 10 title. Record: 10-2


Head coach: Geoff Collins, 1st season as Temple’s head coach

Last year’s record: 10-4

Season opener: Saturday (3:30 p.m.) at Notre Dame

Analysis: The loss of quarterback Phillip Walker and senior running back Jahad Thomas creates a void that will need to be filled if the Owls are to reach their third straight American Athletic Conference championship game, which they won last year by thumping Navy. Collins hasn’t revealed the starting quarterback for the season opener against Notre Dame. Redshirt junior Frank Nutile has the most experience, but redshirt freshmen Logan Marchi and Anthony Russo and freshman Todd Centeio are also in the mix.

The Owls have a more obvious answer at running back, where junior Ryquell Armstead returns after rushing for 919 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Ventell Bryant, who led the Owls with 54 receptions for 895 yards, and redshirt senior Keith Kirkwood (42 receptions for 648 yards) should be the top two targets. In addition to Thomas and Walker, Temple needs to replace Dion Dawkins, who anchored the offensive line.

The biggest individual loss on defense is Haason Reddick, who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 13th selection in the first round of the NFL Draft. But the Owls also lost all three starting linebackers to graduation. The strength of the defense should be the secondary, with senior safety Sean Chandler leading the way. Chandler and fellow senior Delvon Randall form a tremendous safety tandem. Senior Artrel Foster and transfer Mike Jones round out a terrific secondary. Stephaun Marshall, shifting to Matakevich’s WILL linebacker position, has big shoes to fill. Praise Martin-Oguike will be counted upon to pressure opposing quarterbacks.

Prediction: With so many new starters, it’s unlikely that the Owls will have a top 10 defense this year. They also have questions at quarterback. Temple may not repeat as AAC champion, but it should post a winning record. Record: 7-5


Head coach: Mark Ferrante, 1st season as Villanova’s head coach

Last year’s record: 9-4

Season opener: Saturday (12:30 p.m.) at Lehigh

Analysis: The biggest change will be on the sideline, where longtime assistant coach Mark Ferrante takes over for Andy Talley, who was the head coach for 32 years. Fortunately for Ferrante, dual-threat quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (539 rushing yards, 2,158 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and a 59.9 completion percentage) returns for his junior season. Bednarczyk was second in rushing to Aaron Forbes (811 yards), who returns for his junior season. Senior receiver Taurus Phillips (36 receptions for 497 yards, 3 TDs) and senior tight end Ryan Bell (33 receptions for 434 yards, 7 TDs) are expected to be the top targets.

The defense lost defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon (11 sacks, 21½ tackles for loss), who drafted by the Chiefs, and senior linebacker Austin Calitro. But safety Rob Rolle, who had seven interceptions last season, headlines an experienced secondary that includes Malik Reaves, Trey Johnson and Rasaan Stewart. Jeff Steeb and Ed Shockley, who were tied with Calitro for the Wildcats lead in tackles last season with 86 apiece, anchor the linebacker corps.

Prediction: The Wildcats should be playoff-bound again. With Lehigh, the defending Patriot League champion, and Temple as the first two opponents, the Wildcats could get off to a rough start, but they should right the ship in time. Villanova could be a dangerous playoff team at the end of the season. Record: 9-2


Head coach: Danny Rocco, 1st season as Delaware’s head coach

Last year’s record: 4-7

Season opener: 22-3 win over Delaware State on Thursday

Analysis: Much like last year, the question is whether the Blue Hens will improve with experience. Having 18 returning starters last season didn’t make much difference. Delaware finished with a 4-7 record for the second consecutive season. This year the Blue Hens return 19 starters, including 10 on defense.

The heart of the defense is the linebacker corps, featuring co-captains Charles Bell, who has led the Blue Hens in tackles the past two seasons with 96 and 94, respectively, and Troy Reeder, the former Penn State player who was second on the team in tackles (63) lasts season.

There will be more emphasis on the linebackers this season as Rocco switches from a 4-3 formation to a 3-4 alignment. But that also puts pressure on the defensive line, which is anchored by senior co-captain Bilal Nichols and senior Blaine Woodson. Nasir Adderley, a junior, should be one of the keys to the secondary. Adderley also plays an important role on special teams, averaging 23.6 yards per kickoff return.

There are more question marks on offense than defense.  Blue Hens will be without leading rusher Wes Hills, who led Delaware in rushing  last season with 728 yards despite being limited to seven games by injuries. Mills is on academic probation, but the cupboard isn’t bare.   Junior Thomas Jefferson gained 700 yards last season and got off to a good start this year with 102 yards during the season-opening victory over Delaware State.

Quarterback Joe Walker rushed for 389 yards, but he must improve on his 48.4 percent passing percentage this season. Diante Cherry (27 receptions for 331 yards, 3 TDs) is the top returning receiver. Senior center Brody Kern anchors the offensive line.

Prediction: The question is whether the defense is good enough to secure wins while the offense rounds into form. The Blue Hens might not end their streak of losing seasons, but they should be a little better than their 4-7 marks the past two seasons. Record: 5-6


Head coach: Ray Priore, 3rd season as Penn’s head coach

Last year’s record: 7-3

Season opener: Sept. 16 (1 p.m.) vs. Ohio Dominican

Analysis: Penn returns eight starters on defense and six on offense from last year’s team, which earned a share of the Ivy League championship for the second straight season. Receiver Justin Watson, a two-time All-American selection, caught 89 passes last season for 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns, Tre Solomon led the Ivy League in rushing with 907 yards and nine rushing touchdowns. One challenge will be to replace quarterback Alek Torgersen, who completed 66.9 percent of his passes last season for 2,231 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing just four interceptions. Nick Robinson, Will Fischer-Colbrie and Ryan Glover are competing to replace Torgersen as the starter.

Senior Colton Moskal, who led the Quakers last season with 89 tackles, is joined by Nick Miller, who was second in tackles (68) anchor the linebacker corps. Junior Sam Philippi, who was third in tackles (58) is the leader in the secondary. Senior Louis Vecchio is the play-maker along the defensive line.

Prediction: The quarterback may hold the key to the Quakers’ fortunes. Whichever quarterback becomes the starter will have excellent weapons to work with in Watson and Solomon. Hopefully, a less-experienced offensive line develops quickly. A share of another Ivy League title shouldn’t be expected, but it’s also not out of the question. Record: 7-3

Smelling like a Rose

Posted by Eric Fisher On January - 1 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

It’s difficult to imagine Penn State and USC performing any worse than conference rivals Ohio State and Washington in the national championship semifinals. The Buckeyes were blown out by Clemson; the Huskies were dominated by Alabama.

But the fifth-ranked Nittany Lions (11-2), who, as the Big Ten champions, had more of a claim to a national playoff berth than USC (9-3), share a feeling of accomplishment with the 9th-ranked Trojans simply by making it Monday’s Rose Bowl (5 p.m.).

USC started the season 1-3. At the time, the Trojans would have been happy to be chosen for any bowl game, let alone the Rose Bowl. Penn State started the season 2-2, including an embarrassing 49-10 loss at Michigan. The most pertinent questions were about head coach James Franklin’s job security rather than which bowl would invite the Nittany Lions.

Since September, however, neither the Trojans nor Nittany Lions have lost a game. Penn State’s post-September resume includes a victory over Ohio State. USC’s post-September resume includes a victory over Washington.

But the time for debating playoff invitations is over. The focus is on the Rose Bowl, which features two of the hottest teams in the nation.

One similarity between the teams is the role their starting quarterbacks played in their turnaround.

USC’s rise corresponds to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold’s ascension to the role of starting quarterback. Although he saw action in the Trojans’ first three games, the first game in which he made a significant impact was a 31-27 loss to Utah on Sept. 23. Darnold completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards. With Darnold (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) under center, the Trojans won their next eight games, with seven of the wins being by double digits.

Darnold has completed 68.1 percent of his passes (213 for 313) for 2,633 yards. He has thrown 26 touchdowns and been intercepted eight times.

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley’s numbers are not as impressive. He has completed 57.5 percent of his passes (206 for 358), but has thrown 25 touchdowns and only five interceptions this season. McSorley has also rushued 140 times for 563 yards and six touchdowns.

What stands out about McSorley is his leadership. No matter how bleak the situation looks, McSorley seems able to rally his team. Perhaps the best evidence of McSorley’s leadership was his outstanding effort in Penn State’s remarkable comeback victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. Penn State’s reversal of fortune this season coincided with the decision to open up the offense and give McSorley more freedom.

McSorley, of course, has the good fortune of playing alongside running back Saquon Barkley, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Barkley rushed for 1,302 yards, an average of 100.2 per game and 5.3 per carry. Some teams tried to take away Barkley, especially later in the season. Although this sometimes slowed Penn State’s offense, McSorley always found a way to win.

McSorley has an incredible knack for making the big play. On the receiving end of many of McSorley’s throws are Chris Godwin (50 catches for 795 yards, 9 TDs) and Mike Gesicki (47 receptions for 668 yards, 4 TDs).

Penn State’s turnaround is even more remarkable because of the numerous injuries the team has suffered. The Nittany Lions lost three starting offensive tackles. They endured a series of injuries to their linebackers. Barkley has been hindered by leg injuries during the latter part of the season.

One reason for the Nittany Lions’ reversal of fortune is that the defensive line has improved dramatically during the course of this season. They will be hard-pressed to sack Darnold, who has only been sacked five times this season. If they can get pressure on Darnold, though, it should reduce his effectiveness and will make covering game-breaking receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster easier for Penn State’s solid corps of defensive backs.

On the other side of the ball, Adoree Jackson was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back.


Neither team has lost since September. If the game follows the pattern of these two teams, USC should take a first-half lead behind Darnold, only to have Penn State rally behind McSorley during the second half, with several big plays leading to a Penn State victory. The Nittany Lions will be without linebacker Manny Bowen and wide receiver Saeed Blacknall, a hero during the win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, due to violations of team rules, but the Nittany Lons have survived the loss of players all season. An underappreciated asset for Penn State is consistent kicker Tyler Davis, who has made 22 of 24 field goal attempts.  Davis and McSorley should come through again for the Nittany Lions. Penn State 31, USC 30


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