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ESPN breaks down how Penn State football makes the 2024 CFP

One of ESPN’s biggest names had high praise for the 2023 version of the Penn State Nittany Lions.



Penn State Football, Drew Allar, Beau Pribula
Apr 15, 2023; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Drew Allar (15) throw a pass during the fourth quarter of the Blue White spring game at Beaver Stadium. The Blue team defeated the White team 10-0. Mandatory Credit: Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

James Franklin and Penn State football enter the 2023 season with the program’s highest expectations in quite some time. Multiple outlets project the Nittany Lions as a preseason top-five team and an early favorite to make a second New Year’s Six bowl in as many years. Coming off an 11-2 season and Rose Bowl victory, another 10-win regular season could be just the start for Penn State this season. Some pundits in the college football media, most recently senior ESPN writer Pete Thamel, believe that Penn State football is a legitimate contender to make the 2024 CFP.

We will find out quickly if the Nittany Lions are playoff contenders

While Penn State’s 2023 schedule can set up nicely for a CFP run, it certainly doesn’t do the Lions any favors. James Franklin’s team opens the season at home against West Virginia. The Lions then play three Big Ten opponents in September, including two on the road. Facing four Power Five opponents in five weeks isn’t an easy way to break in a new quarterback, even if former five-star prospect Drew Allar ultimately gets the starting nod.

However, ESPN’s recently released Football Power Index has Penn State football favored to win in 10 of its 12 games. Of course, showdowns against Ohio State and Michigan loom in October and November. The FPI currently gives the Nittany Lions a considerable chance of losing in Columbus as well as falling in a coin flip at home against the Wolverines.

ESPN writer gives Lions “very good” chance of making the playoff

While another 10-2 regular season would be no slouch of a year, many Penn State fans want and expect more from the Nittany Lions in 2023. The college football world also sees what Penn State is returning this year, and the Lions have become a trendy pick to make the CFP. This includes senior ESPN writer Pete Thamel, who discussed Penn State’s chances of breaking the 10-win barrier on College Gameday’s NFL Draft coverage this weekend.

“I think they’re gonna go over,” Thamel said of the Nittany Lions’ projected 10-win total in a segment of the show he recently clipped and posted on his Twitter account. “I think Penn State has a very good chance to make the playoff this year.”

Pete Thamel breaks down how Penn State football can make the 2024 CFP

According to Thamel, Penn State can overcome the hurdle of breaking in a first-year starter at quarterback by leaning on the running game of Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen early in the season. More importantly, Thamel feels strongly about the Lions’ ability to provide protection up front. Speaking of Olu Fashanu, Thamel noted that Penn State’s starting left tackle was expected to be a top NFL Draft pick this year. “It was probably the biggest surprise amongst NFL evaluators that Olu Fashanu returned of all the players who came back in college football this year,” Thamel stated.

Beyond the Nittany Lions star on the left side, Thamel is buying what the Penn State coaching staff is selling all along the offensive front. “I think they’ve finally grown up,” Thamel said of Penn State’s offensive line. “I think they’ve recruited well at that position. Phil Trautwein, the position coach, has gotten them in the position where they’re gonna have multiple guys drafted. And, they’re ready to go in the trenches with Ohio State and the trenches with Michigan.”

Time will tell if 2023 is the year for James Franklin

Like almost every year, Penn State’s 2024 CFP hopes will rest on two games this fall. Whether or not you believe James Franklin’s Lions are legitimate playoff contenders depends on if you think they can win one — or both — of their matchups against Ohio State and Michigan. More so than at any point in the last several years, Penn State football has the balance of young talent and experience to go toe-to-toe in the Big Ten East. A new window of opportunity is opening for Penn State this season, and we will have to wait and see if this team can take hold of it.

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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