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Walk into any grocery store and you will soon start seeing copies of the Athlon Sports college preview magazines. It is one of the warm reminders that college football is coming, and you may be enticed to check out the preseason top 25 to see where Penn State is ranked. Fortunately, Athlon Sports released its preseason top 25 last week, and the Nittany Lions are ranked inside the top 20 for the 2021 season.

Penn State checks in at No. 19 on the Athlon Sports preseason top 25. Coming off a tough 2020 season but with a good batch of ingredients for possible success in 2021 makes it difficult for Penn State to have a solid read going into the new season. That trend seems to continue with its preseason ranking from Athlon.

Here’s what Athlon Sports had to say about Penn State in 2021;

Last year’s 4-5 record was a big disappointment, but Penn State should rebound in 2021. Prior to last season, the Nittany Lions won at least 11 games in three of the last four years. While getting back to double-digit wins won’t be easy, there should be noticeable improvement, especially if the offense gets on track under new coordinator Mike Yurcich. The former Texas and Oklahoma State play-caller will be Penn State’s third different coordinator in three years, but a normal offseason should ease the transition. Quarterback play is under the spotlight after Sean Clifford had an uneven ’20 season and tossed nine picks in nine games. Clifford has an edge to be the No. 1 signal-caller once again, and he won’t lack for help with Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington back at receiver, along with a deep stable of running backs and three starters back in the trenches. Penn State’s defense held teams to 5.1 yards per play but gave up 27.7 points a contest. Improving on both totals is a reasonable expectation with seven starters back. However, there are big holes to fill up front with Jayson Oweh, Shaka Toney, Shane Simmons and Antonio Shelton all departing the trenches. Transfers Derrick Tangelo (Duke) and Arnold Ebiketie (Temple) need to make an impact right away up front. The road slate features treks to Wisconsin, Iowa and Ohio State, while Michigan, Indiana and Auburn visit Happy Valley this fall.

This is a pretty good summary of Penn State. The upgrade at offensive coordinator with Mike Yurcich is benefitted by having a full spring practice schedule to work through the transition. Sean Clifford has had his ups and downs but has good help around him on the offensive side of the football. And the defense has room for improvement, although the points allowed per game wasn’t helped last year by extremely costly turnovers leading to opponents scoring on defense or having an extremely short field to work with.

The ranking by Athlon Sports is six spots higher than the one released by Sporting News this week. Sporting News ranked Penn State No. 25 in its preseason top 25.

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