Power Ranking Penn State's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

Tim Tolley@@TimTolley_BRContributor IJune 20, 2014

Power Ranking Penn State's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest

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    Gene J Puskar/Associated Press

    The college football season is just over two months away, and Penn State predictions are starting to formulate about the 2014 campaign. 

    How many can they win? Can they upset the Buckeyes? Will UCF be as good as they were last season?

    Here's a look at the 2014 schedule in order from the easiest opponents to the toughest to help you form an opinion of your own!

12. Game 4: UMass Minutemen

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 1-11

    The Minutemen have struggled to find their footing since moving up to the FBS level, winning just two games in the last two seasons.

    This game should serve as a good final warm-up before the thick of the Big Ten schedule begins.

11. Game 10: Temple Owls

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 2-10

    Every time Temple seems to be a year away, they seem to stumble through another sub-mediocre season. They were overmatched in the AAC last year, winning just one conference game. 

    It's possible that the Owls will benefit from playing Penn State late in the season when their depth could be an issue, but it's not like Temple is stacking their depth chart with elite prospects. 

    The Nittany Lions haven't lost to Temple since 1941, and it's unlikely that this version of the in-state "rivalry" will break that streak.

10. Game 3: At Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 6-7

    Rutgers will have home-field advantage here, but the truth is, Penn State has a bigger following in the New Jersey/New York area and could hold the majority of the seats at High Point Solutions Stadium.

    It will be fun to see Rutgers in the Big Ten, but their opener against Penn State will not serve as a friendly welcoming act.

9. Game 2: Akron Zips

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 5-7

    The Zips were within a touchdown last year of beating Louisiana-Lafayette, Northern Illinois and Michigan in the Big House, and they return their top offensive weapons. 

    They open against Howard on a Thursday and will be extra rested when they face a Penn State team fresh off a trip home from Ireland. Tommy Bowden has Akron primed for a run at the MAC title, and they'll be looking to make a statement in Happy Valley.

8. Game 8: Maryland Terrapins

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 7-6

    Another first-year Big Ten squad, Maryland gets the benefit of playing Penn State immediately after the Nittany Lions play Michigan and Ohio State. 

    It's difficult to judge the Terps based on their 2013 season due to the injury bug that plagued them all year, but the level of talent probably isn't there just yet. 

    Sixth-year quarterback C.J. Brown has just 20 career passing touchdowns, but his receivers are solid. This one could be a trap game if Penn State is too high or low following the OSU game.

7. Game 11: At Illinois

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 4-8

    The Illini gave Penn State all they could handle last year at Beaver Stadium, taking the home team to overtime before losing by a touchdown. 

    Illinois will be replacing key players on offense, but they'll have home field, and head coach Tim Beckman could be coaching for his job. 

6. Game 1: UCF (in Dublin, Ireland)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 12-1

    The Knights return several starters from their Fiesta Bowl Championship squad that beat Penn State 34-31 last year, but they'll be replacing Blake Bortles—the first quarterback taken in 2014's NFL draft.

    Also gone to the NFL is running back Storm Johnson—who torched the Nittany Lions' defense for 117 yards on just 17 carries.

    That's a lot for a team like UCF to replace overnight. 

    It's hard to say how the travel will affect both teams, but Christian Hackenberg has a full season under his belt while UCF's quarterback will be starting for the first time in his career. That favors the blue and white.

5. Game 5: Northwestern Wildcats

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    Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

    2013 Record: 5-7

    Much like UCF, Northwestern will be asked to replace some key contributors in 2014, but the 'Cats always give Penn State a good game. 

    The two avoided each other in 2013 after one of the better matchups between the two in 2012. 

    Pat Fitzgerald will have his team ready to play, and homecoming in Happy Valley could get interesting. 

4. Game 9: At Indiana

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    2013 Record: 5-7

    Last season, Penn State traveled to Bloomington and took a beating that few saw coming. Due to conference re-alignment, Penn State must go back to Hoosier country to face a similar team to the one that ran them off the field in 2013.

    The Hoosiers will be coming off a road trip to Ann Arbor that could benefit Penn State.

    The Nittany Lions will be looking for revenge, but they've given Indiana confidence that could be detrimental to the effort. 

3. Game 6: At Michigan Wolverines

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 7-6

    It took four overtimes for Penn State to put the Wolverines away last season in front of a whiteout crowd inside Beaver Stadium. This season will see the Nittany Lions take on a similar Michigan team under the lights of The Big House.

    These two evenly-matched teams could provide for another classic, but the 100,000-plus fans in attendance will have a different agenda than last season. That could be enough to tip the scale.

2. Game 7: Ohio State Buckeyes

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 12-2

    The Buckeyes got up early on Penn State last year and went on to beat them by almost 50. They've lost some of the offensive firepower from 2013, but the Ohio State defensive line could be among the best in the country in 2014.

    The Nittany Lions will be at home for this one, but they could still be double-digit underdogs by the time kickoff arrives.

    Penn State would love to play spoiler in whatever postseason plans the Buckeyes are making, but Braxton Miller will have different plans. 

1. Game 12: Michigan State Spartans

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    USA TODAY Sports

    2013 Record: 13-1

    For the third straight year, Penn State will close its season as an underdog against a formidable opponent.

    An early loss against Notre Dame cost the Spartans a potential shot at the National Championship. As it was, they beat an undefeated Ohio State team in the Big Ten Championship before taking down a terrific Stanford squad in the Rose Bowl.

    Offensive leaders Connor Cook (QB) and Jeremy Langford (RB) will be back, and the Sparty defense is starting to have a reputation for being stingy and mean. Penn State could have a long afternoon ahead of them in this one.