Penn State Football: Early Game-by-Game Prediction for the 2014 Season
We're less than 100(!) days away from the 2015 football season which Penn State will kick off in Ireland against UCF in the Croke Park Classic.
The Nittany Lions have managed to hold things together thus far amid crippling sanctions that have depleted the roster and left them with around 50 healthy scholarship players at times in 2013. The upcoming season could be the most difficult to navigate through but a third consecutive winning season would give fans something to be proud of.
Gone are Wisconsin, Minnesota and Nebraska but they've been replaced by the likes of Michigan State and a couple new additions to the Big Ten.
The out-of-conference schedule gives Franklin a test in week one followed by some winnable games. Will the kinks be worked out by the time the Big Ten schedule gets going or will growing pains and a thin roster prove too much for the Big Ten's newest coach?
Here's a week-by-week breakdown of the Nittany Lions' 2014 season.
All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
Game 1, Saturday, August 30th: UCF in Dublin, Ireland
Many fans undervalued UCF as an opponent in 2013 thinking that a directional Florida school couldn't possibly come into Beaver Stadium and upend the mighty Nittany Lions. Following a 288 yard, three touchdown performance by future first round pick Blake Bortles, fans and players will not be looking past the Knights in 2014.
The question will be whether UCF can duplicate last year's success following the departure of key players like Bortles, Storm Johnson and Sean Maag. The Knights could be trying to find their identity with new starters at running back and quarterback when these two take the field in Ireland.
Penn State will be refining a new system of their own but this time around, Christian Hackenberg won't be starting his third career game and the crowd at Croker Park should be largely behind the Nits.
PREDICTION: Penn State 37, UCF 20
Game 2, Saturday, September 6th: Akron Zips
Akron was 5-7 last season but gave Michigan all they could handle in Ann Arbor and won four of their last five games. The Zips could be primed to take the next step in Terry Bowden's third season as head coach.
Akron returns most of its starting offense including the leading passer, rusher and receiver from 2013. Penn State had some trouble in 2013 with uptempo offenses and that's exactly what Akron employs.
The Nittany Lions will be returning from Ireland while Akron plays week one at home on a Thursday night and will have extra preparation time. This matchup could be a trap game for Penn State if they don't show up ready for a battle.
PREDICTION: Penn State 31, Akron 30
Game 3, Saturday, September 13th: At Rutgers
In Penn State's first of three night games this season, they'll travel east for Rutgers' inaugural Big Ten game.
Despite Rutgers' recent struggles on the field, this game has all the makings to become a strong rivalry and both teams will be out for blood.
Several of Penn State's key players hail from New Jersey and Rutgers fans hate losing in-state players to the west—a trend that's becoming more common each year.
Expect the home fans to be rabid while trying to drown out the large contingency of Nittany Lion fans who will be on hand.
PREDICTION: Penn State 27, Rutgers 20
Game 4, Saturday, September 20th: UMass
The Minutemen have struggled mightily since moving up to the FBS level, winning just one game in each of the last two seasons.
The last two games of 2013 saw UMass lose by a combined score of 88-23 and it's not likely that they improve enough in one offseason to right the ship and become weekly contenders.
Despite the fact that UMass returns its top rusher, passer and receiver, this is one game that you can circle now as a win for Penn State.
PREDICTION: Penn State 38, UMass 13
Game 5, Saturday, September 27th: Northwestern
After a year off of Penn State's schedule, everyone's favorite homecoming opponent returns to Happy Valley for another romp in Beaver Stadium.
Gone will be Kain Colter and Venric Mark, two of the more versatile, explosive players in the Big Ten.
The Wildcats will be forced into a more conventional pro-style offense with Trevor Siemian at the helm. Northwestern returns its top two receivers from 2013 along with its top rusher to help balance the attack.
Unfortunately for Pat Fitzgerald and crew, Evanston's finest don't have the athletes to play smash mouth football and could suffer a down year with a simplified playbook.
Fitzgerald's teams always play hard though and will give Penn State all they can handle in the first real contest at Beaver Stadium in 2014.
PREDICTION: Penn State 24, Northwestern 20
Game 6, Saturday, October 11th: At Michigan
After several night games in Happy Valley, the Nittany Lions and Wolverines will square off this year under the lights of The Big House in Ann Arbor.
Last year's contest saw two evenly matched teams play four overtimes before Penn State came away with the victory.
Michigan is a tough team to call this far out because they are replacing several starters and the team's best wide receiver started at quarterback the last two seasons. Depending how things shake out with their quarterback situation, the Wolverines may have their first effective pro style offense since the Chad Henne days.
Both teams will suffer through growing pains along the offensive line this season and could be close to each other as far as overall talent goes. The difference will be Michigan is at home and Brady Hoke may be coaching for his job.
PREDICTION: Michigan 31, Penn State 27
Game 7, Saturday, October 25th: Ohio State
The White House.
Penn State will once again host the Buckeyes in what should be a sold out crowd of 107,000—mostly dressed in white.
After an embarrassing loss last year in Columbus, the Nittany Lions will be looking for revenge against an Ohio State team that should be undefeated entering the contest. They'll be aided by a bye week and only one game in the three weeks prior to this matchup so rest won't be an issue.
But will they be able to stop Braxton Miller?
Despite losing his top running mate in Carlos Hyde, Miller still holds the crown as the most dynamic playmaker in the Big Ten. Couple that with what should be the best defensive line in the conference—if not the country—and the good guys could be in for another long night.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 45, Penn State 24
Game 8, Saturday, November 1st: Maryland
In another matchup that Big Ten folks are hoping becomes a rivalry, Penn State will host Maryland for the first time as divisional foes.
The Terps were hit hard by the injury bug in 2013 and could have a surprisingly potent offensive attack led by dynamic wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Or they could be yet another sub par Maryland team.
The university that gave James Franklin his first big break will be looking to boost their recruiting by beating the Nittany Lions who have been doing work in Maryland's back yard.
Meanwhile, Penn State could be coming off consecutive losses and will view this as an opportunity to right the ship.
PREDICTION: Penn State 38, Maryland 23
Game 9, Saturday, November 8th: At Indiana
Penn State went into Bloomington last year and let a close game get away from them late, losing to Indiana 44-24 in what could be considered a shocker.
Due to re-alignment within the conference, the Nittany Lions must make that trip again—this time with revenge on the brain.
The Hoosiers lost their top two wide receivers but return Shane Wynn who caught 11 touchdowns in 2013. Also returning will be the two-headed monster of Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfield at quarterback and the team's leading rusher, Tevin Coleman.
Sudfield threw for more than 300 yards in the contest last year while Roberson rushed for two touchdowns.
This game could be the one that determines whether or not Penn State can keep its head above water with another winning season under sanctions.
PREDICTION: Penn State 35, Indiana 34
Game 10, Saturday, November 15th: Temple
Facing Rutgers in September pushes one of the non-conference games into a rare November matchup.
Despite going 2-10 in 2013 with losses to Fordham and Idaho, the Owls did show some promise for the future as freshman quarterback P.J. Walker threw for 20 touchdowns in nine games while rushing for 332 yards and another three scores.
Temple returns most of their skill players and Walker could be a fun one to watch if he can stay healthy.
Unfortunately for Penn State's in-state "rival," the Owls just never seem to have enough to get it done against the Nittany Lions.
PREDICTION: Penn State 27, Temple 17
Game 11, Saturday, November 22nd: At Illinois
Michael Mauti is long gone but there are several players remaining on this team that remember Illinois coach Tim Beckman and his staff camping out in Happy Valley, recruiting players after the NCAA made them fair game. That didn't go over well with the team and you can bet that senior leaders Adrian Amos and Bill Belton will be sure to remind the others how that felt.
The Illini will be replacing four of the top five receivers from 2013 as well as long-time starting quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase but should have a rhythm by the time late November comes around.
Weather could play a factor in this one as it does many late games in the Big Ten. That would play right into the strengths of Penn State with their strong defensive line and trio of capable running backs.
This could be the last time you see Beckman roaming the sidelines in Champaign.
PREDICTION: Penn State 20, Illinois 6
Game 12, Saturday, November 29th: Michigan State
The defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions return to Happy Valley after a hiatus caused by the original divisional alignment. The new divisions will see these two squads battle for the Land Grant Trophy in the last week of each season, once again.
Despite losing two of the best linebackers in the conference, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, as well as one of the top cornerbacks in the country in Darqueze Dennard, the Spartans should remain a defensive force in 2014.
The offense, led by Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford, didn't get enough credit in 2013 and should show improvement after a year of experience together.
Michigan State will be competing for another Big Ten championship while the Nittany Lions just won't have the firepower to keep up.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 34, Penn State 17