CHICAGO – Penn State rose from the ashes of the Jerry Sandusky scandal quicker than most expected.

The Nittany Lions won the 2016 Big Ten title after shocking Ohio State and finished the 2017 season ranked No. 8 after its Fiesta Bowl over Washington. Perceived by some to be on at least a warm seat entering 2016, coach James Franklin is recruiting at a high level and is expected to contend for the Big Ten title again this year.

But superstar running back Saquon Barkley is just one of numerous players that Penn State lost after last season.

"We probably have more question marks going into this season than we've had the last two years,” Franklin said Monday during his Big Ten media days news conference. “We lost a lot of production."

Penn State lost 10 starters, including eight on defense. Franklin said he’s particularly worried about replacing three seniors at defensive tackle and middle linebacker Jason Cabinda.

But the cupboard isn’t bare. Quarterback Trace McSorley returns and while he lost Barkley and other playmakers, Franklin is more confident about his blockers.

“I don't know if you necessarily can replace a guy like that from a production standpoint,” Franklin said of Barkley. “But I do think our offensive line, for the first time since we've been there, becoming a strength is going to help with that. So excited about that group. The game of football always will and always has started up front. I feel really good about that group.”

McSorley certainly is a nice security blanket. His flair for clutch plays has made him a preseason Heisman Trophy contender.

“Trace is a guy that you look all the way back to little league, all he's done is won,” he said. “He’s been highly, highly productive and is universally respected throughout our entire program. He has done things the right way.

“The thing about Trace that we love so much is that you know what you're getting from Trace every single day, not just on game days, but practice, offseason, community service, academically. He's steady Eddie.”

Franklin said that Penn State has reached the point when it’s more about refining what it does than having to build it.

“The reality is for you to have a program that is a consistent top-10 or top-5 program, you can't do it by just being good in one area,” he said. “You can't just do it being good in a scheme. You can't just do it by being good from a development standpoint. You can't just do it from a recruiting perspective.

“You're going to have to be strong in all of those areas. I think if you have weaknesses, that's what you need to be spending your offseason doing -- attacking those weaknesses. I think we've done a pretty good job. The area I'm most proud of is how we've developed players. I think that's what we do best.”