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With spring football practices now well in the rearview mirror and the transition to full preseason mode underway, updated preseason top 25 rankings are beginning to make the rounds. So far, the general consensus seems to see Penn State as a legitimate top 25 team, although the Nittany Lions are viewed as a team with something to prove before regaining the national; respect as a potential Big Ten or even a playoff contender.

Sporting News and Athlon Sports each had slightly different takes on their outlooks for the Nittany Lions in 2021, and Pro Football Focus is on the record as well. All three have Penn State as a top 25 team, however. And the latest updated preseason ranking from USA TODAY backs that concept up. And once again, it looks like there is a pretty common theme for where Penn State is ranked by the latest offering from USA TODAY writer Erick Smith’s stab at a preseason top 25.

NEXT… USA TODAY’s ranking of Penn State football for 2021

No. 16 – Penn State

Dec 5, 2020; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Penn State running back Keyvone Lee (24) carries the ball as Rutgers Scarlet Knights linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi (3) pursues during the first half at SHI Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

What Erick Smith Says

It’s hard to make sense of the Nittany Lions after they started with five losses last year and then finished with four consecutive wins. It would be easy to overreact to the lows given the loss of their two best players — Micah Parsons and Journey Brown — right before the season. Quarterback Sean Clifford had a major slump that coincided with the arrival of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. New coordinator Mike Yurcich is tasked with rebuilding Clifford’s confidence. A deep stable of running backs and wide receiver Jahan Dotson’s decision to forgo the NFL draft gives the offense some major pop. Two transfers — Temple defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and South Carolina cornerback Johnny Dixon — bolster a unit that should be closer to the usual high standard of the James Franklin era.

NEXT… The complete USA TODAY Top 25

USA TODAY post-spring CFB Top 25

1. Alabama

2. Oklahoma

3. Ohio State

4. Clemson

5. Georgia

6. Iowa State

7. Cincinnati

8. Texas A&M

9. Notre Dame

10. Florida

11. LSU

12. North Carolina

13. Wisconsin

14. Oregon

15. Iowa

16. Penn State

17. Indiana

18. Miami (FL)

19. USC

20. Arizona State

21. Oklahoma State

22. Texas

23. Coastal Carolina

24. Washington

25. Louisiana-Lafayette

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