Five issues to watch

1. Production. No one is suggesting there's another Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki or DaeSean Hamilton ready to take the field, but maybe new playmakers such as running back Miles Sanders and receivers K.J. Hamler and Mac Hippenhammer can help pick up the slack.

2. Freshmen. Coach James Franklin is more than pleased with the way his first-year players have worked in training camp and handled themselves on and off the field. He has been particularly impressed with wide receiver Jahan Dotson and linebackers Jesse Luketa and Micah Parsons.

3. The offensive line. For the first time in the Franklin era, the Nittany Lions have almost a complete two-deep at every position along the offensive line. Redshirt sophomore Michal Menet played well enough in camp to be installed as the starting center, moving Connor McGovern to guard.

4. Defensive ends. Even with injuries ending the careers of Ryan Buchholz and Torrence Brown, the group is "probably the best defensive-end unit I've had in my time as a head coach," Franklin says. Look out for the pass-rushing skills of Philadelphians Shareef Miller and Shaka Toney.

Shareef Miller.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Shareef Miller.

5. Home sweet home. The Nittany Lions will carry a 14-game winning streak at Beaver Stadium into the season. As you can see below, four of their top five games in 2018 (three against teams ranked in the preseason) will be in Happy Valley.

Five key games

Saturday, Sept. 29, Ohio State, time TBD, Beaver Stadium. Quarterback J.T. Barrett doesn't play in Columbus anymore, and coach Urban Meyer's reputation nationally is in tatters, so figure the decibel level of the Whiteout crowd to be even higher than when the Lions beat the Buckeyes two years ago.

Saturday, Oct. 13, Michigan State, 3:30 or 4 p.m., Beaver Stadium. The Spartans are another obstacle in the loaded Big Ten East, and the Lions will be looking to avenge a 27-24 loss on a last-second field goal in a game that lasted around seven hours because of a lightning delay that took up about half that time.

Saturday, Oct. 27, Iowa, time TBD, Beaver Stadium. Despite a program record-tying 99 plays last year, the Lions needed a touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson on the final play of the game to defeat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City. Warning: Iowa usually comes on in the second half of the season.

Saturday, Nov. 3, at Michigan, time TBD. Two years ago, Penn State's 49-10 loss to the Wolverines at the Big House actually lit a fire under the team, and the Lions are 20-3 since then. Jim Harbaugh always has a stellar defense to throw at opponents, but can his offense catch up behind new quarterback Shea Fitzgerald?

Saturday, Nov. 10, Wisconsin, time TBD, Beaver Stadium. The Badgers are receiving much love from those who think they can defeat the East survivor for the Big Ten championship and reach the College Football Playoff. The game brings quarterback Alex Hornibrook (Malvern Prep) and running back Jonathan Taylor (Salem) back east.

Five players to watch

1. Trace McSorley, 6-foot, 203, Sr., QB. Graduation losses mean he'll be throwing to some new receivers, but if he can put together a season like each of the previous two, he'll get Heisman Trophy attention and consideration as perhaps the best Lions quarterback ever.

2. Juwan Johnson, 6-4, 231, R-Jr., WR. Succeeding Chris Godwin and Hamilton as McSorley's No. 1 receiver, the Glassboro High graduate has the size, speed, hands and ability to put together a monster season.

Juwan Johnson.
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
Juwan Johnson.

3. Miles Sanders, 5-11, 207, Jr., RB. James Franklin was an assistant coach in Green Bay when the Packers drafted Aaron Rodgers, who spent three seasons behind Brett Favre and became an all-pro. He sees a similar scenario with Sanders, who sat for two seasons behind Barkley.

4. John Reid, 5-10, 180, R-Jr., CB. The former St. Joseph's Prep star is as excited as someone coming off a season-long knee injury can be, and gives the Nittany Lions a solid presence against the run and pass.

5. Micah Parsons, 6-3, 237, Fr., LB. "Freak athlete" is the most common description of Parsons, one of the most sought-after recruits in the freshman class of 2018, and he'll see his share of action at outside linebacker before too long.