It’s really just the nature of the game, and the coverage of hype that comes with it. That’s really the only way to explain how Marcus Allen remains relatively obscure in the national college football landscape.
Allen, a senior safety for Penn State, is arguably the Nittany Lions best returning player (sure, Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley also have legitimate claims to that title). Yet being a standout of a team that could start the season ranked in the top 5 hasn’t even made him the most famous football player named Marcus Allen.
But he could be one of the most important players in the country when it comes to the upcoming national championship race. Penn State’s offense is hardly a concern with so much returning talent, including Barkley at running back and McSorley at quarterback. The Nittany Lions will almost undoubtedly put up big numbers once again on offense and the pair of Heisman Trophy candidates will get unlimited hype.
That’s probably a big reason why McSorley and Barkley got a break from interviews and TV cameras this week while head coach James Franklin brought three other players to Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. Among them was Allen, the undisputed leader of the Penn State defense.
And it’s the defense that could be the difference between a major bowl game, like last season, and Penn State’s first ever College Football Playoff berth.
That’s why the college football world, outside of Big Ten territory, needs to get to know Allen. He’s very much McSorley’s equivalent on the defensive side of the ball, the leader and one of the few veterans in a talented, but largely inexperienced defensive backfield.
“You’ve got to be like a quarterback,” Allen told reporters in Chicago. “You have to literally know darn near everything from the linemen to the linebackers to the corners to yourself. You’ve got to put them where they need to be because if someone messed up you’ve got to correct them. You’ve got to look at the whole formation and make checks because you’ve got a game plan for that. Then if they hurry up and switch into a whole other formation you’ve got to check for that. It’s a lot of stuff going on and you’ve got to know signs. It’s a lot of mental stuff.”
You can bet building off last season and earning a shot at a national title is a driving force behind Allen in his final season in Happy Valley. The Maryland product left his name out of the NFL Draft despite recording 110 tackles last season and displaying improved pass coverage.
Now he’s back as one of the most aggressive and hardest hitting defenders in college football. As his discipline in both defending the pass and stopping the run continues to improve, Allen is quite possibly the ideal leader for a Penn State defense that needs to prevent each game from becoming a shootout.
Allen’s presence will be particularly important early on, as the Nittany Lions work new cornerbacks and pass rushers into the lineup. Given the depth Penn State has at the offensive skill positions, you could make a strong case Allen is the most important player on the Lions’ roster.
Even if he won’t get the most attention.
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