After starting 2-2, with a nasty 49-10 loss to Michigan, Penn State was staring at a mediocre season. Then they won 9 straight games including a miracle win against #2 Ohio State and a win in the 2016 Big Ten championship game against #6 Wisconsin. Although they did lose to USC in the Rose Bowl, Penn State proved to the college football world that they are a team to be taken seriously.

AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

So can Penn State win the Big Ten East this season?

Penn State is considered to be the top team in the Big Ten East. After going 11 and 3 in their 2016 campaign, the Nittany Lions are primed to compete for the Big Ten Championship.

Penn State’s Strengths

Penn State’s main strength coming into this season is their returning players. The Nittany Lions have nine returning starters on their offense.

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Their quarterback Trace McSorley is a redshirt Junior who had a strong case for first-team All-Big Ten last season and is the front-runner for being All-Big Ten this season.McSorley has a completion percentage of 66.1 and a passer rating of 158.2 through four games. With ten touchdowns and only three interceptions, Trace McSorley will be one of the key players for Penn State this season.

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Another important player for Penn State this year will be their star tight end Mike Gesicki. The 6-6, 250 pound senior from Manahawkin, NJ already leads the team with four receiving touchdowns and is second in receptions.

The future first-round pick is the best tight end in the Big Ten and is possibly the best tight end in college football. He will be instrumental to Penn State’s plans of beating the highly skilled defenses of the Big Ten.

The key player for Penn State, the one who will truly make or break their hopes of making the Big Ten championship game is their running back Saquon Barkley. He is the leading candidate in college football for the Heisman, According to ESPN.

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Barkley also is leading the Big Ten in rushing yards through the first four games. He leads the Nittany Lions in receptions and receiving yards. Barkley also leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards with 853 yards.

If Barkley continues to put up these video game-like numbers, Penn State will continue being the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten East.

Penn State’s Weaknesses

Another area that could concern Penn State down the line is their lack of consistency with their placekicker. Senior Tyler Davis from Saint Charles, Illinois has missed four field goals already out of 8 attempts.

Last year he made 22 field goals out of 24 attempts, which is worrisome because he already has missed more than he did all of last year. With the margin of error very slim in the Big Ten East, a missed field goal could be the difference between making the Big Ten championship game or losing in the final seconds.

Penn State does have a problem with depth, especially on the offensive line. There left guard, left tackle, and center are all underclassmen.

If any of them get hurt their replacements will be a true freshman. This has yet to be a problem for them; however, this could be a problem when they face the Stout defenses of Michigan and Ohio State.

The Nittany Lions also only have one returning starting wide receiver. However, depth at wide receiver won’t be a problem if Barkley and Gesicki remain healthy.

The Nittany Lions also only have one returning starting wide receiver. However, depth at wide receiver won’t be a problem if Barkley and Gesicki remain healthy.

The Big Ten East is the best division in college football and it is going to take a special team to make it to the Big Ten title game this year.

Sep 30

vs Indiana 3:30 PM EDT
BTN, BTN2

Oct 7

@ Northwestern 12:00 PM EDT
Bye Week

Oct 21

vs Michigan Time: TBD

Oct 28

@ Ohio St. 3:30 PM EDT
FOX

Nov 4

@ Michigan St. Time: TBD

Nov 11

vs Rutgers 12:00 PM EST

Nov 18

vs Nebraska Time: TBD

Nov 25

@ Maryland Time: TBD

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