Penn State running back Journey Brown had 202 yards rushing against Memphis in last season’s Cotton Bowl. Photo from @PennStateFball (Twitter)
- Journey Brown, Penn State’s leading rusher last year, could miss the season because of what the school calls a “medical condition”
- Sophomores Noah Cain and Devyn Ford are possible replacements for Brown
- A look at the Nittany Lions’ running back situation and whether they can still contend for the Big Ten title is below
Penn State received some bad news with their pandemic-delayed opener just days away when the school announced that running back Journey Brown could miss the season because of a “medical condition.”
In a statement, Penn State did not elaborate on Brown’s situation other than to say the condition was discovered in the offseason.
Penn State’s odds to win the Big Ten went up to +650 from +600 after the news broke late Monday.
The eighth-ranked Nittany Lions begin Big Ten play Saturday with a visit to Indiana.
2020 Big Ten Title Odds
Odds taken Oct. 20 from FanDuel
Coming Off Breakout
Brown, a fourth-year, junior, established himself as a productive starter last season when Penn State went 11-2.
Brown rushed for a team-high 890 yards on 129 carries – an average of 6.9 a pop – and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground. He also caught 15 passes for 134 yards and a TD.
That came after Brown ran just eight times for 44 yards in 2018 as a redshirt freshman.
Brown rushed for at least 100 yards four times last season, but his breakout game came in the Cotton Bowl. He finished with 202 yards and two TDs on 16 attempts as Penn State downed Memphis 53-39.
It was the most yards rushing by a Penn State player in a bowl game.
Penn State has two sophomore running backs who gained experience last season that could step in to replace Brown in the backup.
Noah Cain rushed for 443 yards and eight touchdowns on 84 carries. He had back-to-back 100-yard games against Purdue and Iowa at midseason.
Devyn Ford had 52 attempts for 294 yards and three TDs. Included was 103 yards on just six carries in a rout of FCS Idaho in his collegiate debut.
Dang. This stinks for Journey. Hope he’s ok. FWIW, PSU has multiple STUDS at RB. Noah Cain and Devyn Ford are both terrific and only true sophomores. Plus 3 redshirt freshmen, several very highly regarded. https://t.co/7jahT5ExiL
— Martin Kyper (@psuphinphan) October 20, 2020
Freshmen Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee could also factor into the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack.
It also helps the offense that junior quarterback Sean Clifford has a season of starting experience. He passed for 2,654 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago.
Penn State scored 35.8 points a game, the 15th-best mark in the FBS.
Missing Parsons, Too
Brown is the second big loss for Penn State.
When the Big Ten initially canceled the 2020 season in August, linebacker Micah Parsons announced he would be leaving school to prepare for the NFL Draft.
— Justyce Gordon (@Thee_ProsBrkdwn) October 19, 2020
Unlike some Big Ten players who decided to opt back in when the conference reversed course on the season, Parsons will not return.
Parsons made a team-high 109 tackles last season, 14 of which were for a loss. He also added five sacks for the Nittany Lions, who were eighth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 16.0 points a game.
Can PSU Survive?
Penn State will certainly miss Brown. However, it also has one of the deepest groups of running back talent in the Big Ten. And the Nittany Lions have a veteran quarterback in Clifford to run the offense.
Ohio State is justifiably the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten. Yet Penn State should still at least be considered a solid darkhorse candidate to potentially overtake the Buckeyes this fall.
John Perrotto has been covering and writing about sports for various outlets for over 40 years. His work has appeared in the likes of USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com, Forbes.com, The Associated Press, Baseball Digest, and more. John is based out of Beaver Falls, PA.