5 things Penn State football must do to elevate, reach playoffs in 2024 (2024)

The crucial Penn State football behind-the-scenes work now begins.

The Nittany Lions won't officially practice together again until early August in preparation for that opening trip to West Virginia and the highly-anticipated 2024 season (expanding Big Ten, College Football Playoffs).

There's the NCAA transfer portal. Recruiting. And that long stretch of defining player-led workouts and strength and conditioning sessions.

Coach James Franklin said he "liked the foundation that we laid this spring," which fans, would hope, refers to improved abilities to win a league championship and making those playoffs for the first time.

What must he and his three new coordinators and ever-changing roster do to improve upon last year's uninspiring 10-2 season and bowl game loss?

5 things Penn State football must do to elevate, reach playoffs in 2024 (1)

To take that ever-elusive "next step" in the college football heirarchy?

Here are five things the Nittany Lions must accomplish to finally make that happen ...

Penn State football: Receivers become best versions of themselves

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Franklin has continued to beat the drum that his crowded receiver room has plenty of talent to rev this offense. And the recruiting profiles would agree: While this isn't Ohio State's stock of super-nova pass catchers, there are plenty of highly-regarded 3- and 4-star prospects.

The key seems to be maturation and confidence under second-year position coach Marques Hagans and an easier success-rate in new coordinator Andy Kotelnicki's system.

This much-maligned group should be bolstered by the seasoned and physical approach of Buckeyes' transfer Julian Fleming and springy junior Tre Wallace, who finally appears healthy.

The key is getting the others (no returning wideout had more than 10 receptions last year) to excel at their apparent strengths: from Liam Clifford (middle-of-field possession target) to Kaden Saunders (slippery in the slot), Omari Evans (downfield burner), Malick McClain (big body on crossing routes, red zone) and Carmelo Taylor (speed, agility along the sidelines)

"We got to take the next step and I saw them take a step this spring. We’re going to be taking another step this summer," Franklin said after the Blue-White. "The positive thing is you can really improve ... offensively in the passing game over the summer."

Drew Allar grows next step as generational QB

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The second-year starter still owns the natural abilities and physical skills to be one of the best ever at Penn State.

To be a first-tier NFL Draft pick in the spring of 2025.

He must also now flourish from improved confidence, composure and overall performance in those biggest moments.

It seems understandable to expect an up-tick this season after a full year of starting games to go with that continually improving 6-foot-5, 240-pound body and giant arm. Again, Kotelnicki's freewheeling offense, with a heavy dressing of defense-confusing shifts, motions and alignments, should help. If mostly to aid his receivers in getting open quicker and easier to start games.

Free Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen: A running back renaissance

Super talents Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen appeared to be operating in some alternate football universe in 2023.

They just kept running into the line of scrimmage, as if in some buzzing Electric Football game, hoping to move defenders and break through and carry an offense.

It never really happened and seemed especially peculiar considering Singleton's home-run drive and acceleration, especially on the outside.

The pair did look looser in the pass game and in space in the regular-season finale and in the Peach Bowl.

They are dramatic, game-changing runners and can be so, too, as receivers. They must get the ball, much more often, in better positions to succeed.

Sack numbers are nice. But defense must pressure when needed most

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Penn State's defense led the Big Ten in sacks the past two years.

But it only means so much when that game-changing pressure is absent for most of the three biggest games — all defeats.

Penn State's long-respected pass rush might be set up well to strike bigger when it matters most in 2024. While junior Dani Dennis-Sutton is primed for a national breakout kind of season and spike his 2023 numbers (3.5 sacks, 6.0 tackles for loss), the key are his counterparts.

The Lions should actually be deeper if not more explosive, overall, here.

How Amin Vanover, Abdul Carter rise:'He's going to have a huge year for us.' Why Penn State football's defense is elite again

New edge rusher Abdul Carter may prove just as lethally quick and dominating as NFL-bound Chop Robinson and senior Amin Vanover and sophom*ore Jameial Lyons were recently praised by Franklin for their rises.

The middle of the line is ultra-experienced and should give a lift here, as well. Same for breakout linebacker Tony Rojas.

Win when everything doesn't line up

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Penn State, it seems, was talented enough to give much better efforts the last three times it was viewed as a relatively even competitor.

But it failed miserably in each one.

This has been a continual sticking point of the Franklin regime: For all of the program's stunning consistency, it's not been known for handling those season-defining days all that well.

This season, that means road trips to USC and Wisconsin and the home game with Ohio State. (The opener at West Virginia will be tricky but the Lions still own physical superiority and will be expected to win).

There will be doubters, for sure, in all three games. They probably will need sharp, winning efforts in at least two to get where they want to go.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him atfbodani@ydr.com and follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @YDRPennState.

5 things Penn State football must do to elevate, reach playoffs in 2024 (2024)

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