Allow me to be clear, these are dark house breakout candidates for the Nittany Lions.
This is not the Sean Clifford, Justin Shorter, Micah Parsons list of players who I think are most likely to show their stuff in a big, bad way this season. These are the guys who are buried a little further down the depth chart but with a splinter of light illuminating their path to Saturday stardom.
Will Levis – Quarterback
The departure of Tommy Steves came as a surprise to all, and sophomore Sean Clifford was immediately thrust into the spotlight as the heir apparent to Trace McSorley after he left.
Not so fast.
I wouldn’t say things are murkier now, and I would be more shocked than Chris Farley when he found out they replaced his coffee with coffee crystals if Clifford isn’t under center on August 31 versus Idaho, but head coach James Franklin has stated this is a competition.
This could be a tactic to push Clifford to his max, but Levis has proven to be a worthy competitor. Levis has the ability to run the football and throw it a quarter-mile. Penn State may need to find ways to get him on the field, especially if the offense sputters out of the gate.
Perhaps Franklin will give the ‘Lion’ position another shot. The Lion was attempted last season with Stevens, but due to his injury issues, it was a lost cause. It’s plausible that Levis may be better suited than Stevens was for the all-purpose position that can run, throw or be used as a decoy.
Jaquan Brisker – Safety
There are not many players on Penn State who I root for more than Lamont Wade. The highly touted cornerback has never been able to realize his full potential, but after a flirtation with the transfer portal and move to safety, it looks like he may have found his niche.
While Wade is just a hair ahead of Jaquan Brisker on the depth chart, Brisker possesses the physical tools and experience to step in and start if need be.
Brisker, a transfer from Lackawanna Community College, was the No.1 rated defensive back in junior college last year. He didn’t get on campus until later than the coaching staff would’ve liked, which may have hurt him in the long run.
Noah Cain – Running Back
Penn State has no shortage of freshmen talent this season. Linebacker Brandon Smith may be the most anticipated freshman to take the field, but Noah Cain is the player who I believe has the best chance to make a splash this season.
Ricky Slade will deservedly be the main running back for Penn State. Speedster Journey Brown is currently second on the depth chart, but opportunities for Cain will be there.
Brown, who missed significant time in the offseason due to a suspension, has been nothing short of great so far in camp.
Cain reported to State College several months before fellow freshman running back Devyn Ford, giving him the upper hand of the two freshmen. He will still need to make some strides to overtake Brown on the depth chart, but if he can instill confidence in running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne, it’s reasonable to think the 5’10 206lb Cain could see carries on the goal line or as a change of pace back.
One way or another, Penn State fans will get to know the name Noah Cain this season.
Jayson Oweh – Defensive End
This one may be a little too obvious. If you follow Penn State football you certainly have heard tales about the mythical beast that is Jayson Oweh.
A combination of obscene strength and insane speed, Oweh could be the next great defensive end at Penn State. Oweh has all the physical tools to be a menace coming off the edge. It’s a matter of how quickly the redshirt freshman can adapt to the mental side of the game.
I say putting Oweh on this list may be a bit too obvious because a guy who is 6’5 255lbs and runs a 4.4 40-yard dash should absolutely breakout this season.
Finding time behind Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney at defensive end may be difficult, as they are two of the cornerstones of what should be a great Nittany Lion defense.