On Saturday, August 31st the Penn State Nittany Lions football team will open up their 2013 campaign against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands. This will be the team’s second season under the leadership of head coach Bill O’Brien and his staff. This will also be the second season that the team will have ti play under the sanctions levied by the NCAA following the infamous Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. As a result, Penn State cannot particpate in any type of postseason play, be it a bowl game or the Big Ten Championship even if they were to win the Leaders division.
Penn State is looking to build off their surprising success from last year, a year that saw them finish 8-4 despite having suffered a multitude of transfers following the sanctions mentioned above. Penn State also overcame a disappointing 0-2 start that saw them drop their opening game to Ohio University and losing a heart breaker to Virginia the following week. Following the opening two losses, the team got back up and went 8-2 down the stretch with their only losses coming to eventaully undefeated Ohio State and to Nebraska on the road in late Novemeber.
Despite the turmoil and the open door transfer policy that allowed any player to leave without having to sit out a season Bill O’Brien (along with guys like Michael Mauti and Micahel Zordich) held this team together and sets them up nicely for this season and many season yet to come. With the starters returning from last year and the additons made through a strong 2013 recruting class (Possible starting QB Christian Hackenberg and TE Adam Breneman), Penn State is once again primed for a solid season.
There has been many projections thrown around about what this team can accomplish this year, I’ve seen anywhere from 9-3 to 6-6. I have a strong feeling that this team will be somewhere between 9-3 and 7-5. To show this, I will breakdown the 2013 schedule game by game and give my thoughts on why I think they will either win or lose. Here we go.
8/31 v. Syracuse (@ MetLife Stadium): Penn State will open their 2013 schedule against ACC opponent Syracuse. While Penn State will offically be the “away” team the game will be played at neutral MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. The Lions will open with a new QB under center with Matt McGloin graduating last year. The new starter will either be junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson or incoing freshman Christian Hackenberg (As of this writing, they have not yet named a starter). Whoever the starter is they will be facing a Syracuse team with a new head coach, a new QB themselves, and a pourous defense. This looks to be their most difficult opponent in their first 6 games, but I still see them taking control and exposing the weak Orange defense for an opening victory. 1-0.
9/7 v. Eastern Michigan: Following a tricky opening weekend against Syracuse, the schedule eases up in the remaining games before Big 10 play begins. None of these opponents should be taken lighty but they won’t be the most daunting teams they face this year. The Nittnay Lions do the exact opposite of last season. 2-0.
9/14 v. UCF: Next year these teams will open up the season against each other in Dublin, Ireland but this year they meet in Beaver Stadium. UCF usually finds their way into a bowl game each season and find themselves in the newly minted American conference this year. Coached by hard nosed George O’Leary the Knights could give Penn State a game if they aren’t careful. Still though, I like Penn State’s talent to overtake UCF in the end. 3-0.
9/21 v. Kent State: Last season’s surprise team coming out of the MAC, Kent State was a win away from playing in a BCS Bowl game as an at-large before losing the MAC Championship game. They’ve lost a lot over the offseason and could be looking at a sub-six win campaign. Penn State goes into the bye week (and Big 10 play) on a high note. 4-0.
10/5 @ Indiana: Penn State’s Big 10 opener will also be there first true road game of the year as they head to Blommington to face the Hoosiers. Historically, Penn State has owned Indiana on the gridiron having gone a perfect 16-0 against Indiana all time. Unless Indiana has improved drastically from last year’s beatdown at Beaver Stadium, I see that record improving to 17-0. 5-0 (1-0).
10/12 v. Michigan: Penn State’s first true test of the year will take place when Michigan visits Beaver Stadium in October. The Wolverines are one of the favorites to win the Legends division and play for the Big 10 Championship. This will not be an easy game for either team. Michigan is very strong on both sides on the ball. The Penn State will have to give it everything they have to keep it close with the offense tries to keep pace on the scoreboard. This is where I think they finally stumble. Michigan just overwhelms them in the end. 5-1 (1-1).
10/26 @ Ohio State: Hands down, this will be the best team Penn State faces all year. Ohio State is not only a favorite to win the Big 10 outright, but they are also considered a favorite to play for the National Championship. The Buckeyes are coming off a 12-0 season under new coach Urban Meyer and are looking to run the table once again. It is no help for Penn State that this game will be played in Columbus. No matter how shady Urban Meyer may be, you have to respect this team. They’re just better. 5-2 (1-2).
11/2 v. Illinois: This game will be very telling. How does Penn State recover from losing two straight? Hopefully, they don’t get into a lull after the losses and come home ready to play a weak Illini team in front of the home fans. A win here can go a long way to finishing out the season strong. 6-2 (2-2).
11/9 @ Minnesota: The Gophers are a much improved team under Jerry Kill and will be a strong test on the road for this young Penn State team. Weather could play a factor as this is being played outdoors in Minnesota so they could have to fight through ten foot snow drifts. I really see this game as a toss up. Minnesota is looking to make another bowl trip this year while Penn State could be looking at a fight to finish above .500 if they drop this one. They “Fight On” and get out alive. 7-2 (3-2).
11/16 v. Purdue: Purdue will not be an easy out like they have been the last few years. Under new leadership, the Boilermakers will look to turn some heads. They could very well do so with a win on the road at Beaver Stadium. Many are also picking them as a possible sleeper team to derail Ohio State in early Novemeber. Purdue can be difficult at home but Penn State has the adavantage of Beaver Stadium in this showdown. They match their win total from last year with two games left. 8-2 (4-2).
11/23 v. Nebraska: The old protected rivalry game. It’s great to have this game back on the slate with Nebraska having joined the Big 10 a few years ago. In two meetings since Nebraska joined, the Cornhuskers have been victorius both times. In 2011, the first game of the post-JoePa era, Nebraska won in Happy Valley and they came out on top again last year in Lincoln. Nebraska is returning starting QB Taylor Martinez who apparently has infinite college eligibility. I see this as another toss up where Penn State could squeak out with a win. Unfortunately, I see Nebraska being just a little bit better. 8-3 (4-3).
11/30 @ Wisconsin: Ending the season against Wisconsin sucks. Ending the season against Wisconsin AT Camp Randall Stadium sucks to the millionth power. One of the toughest places to play in college football and the Nittany Lions’ last visit ended in a 45-7 beatdown at the hands of the Badgers. Wisconsin will be under new leadership but should be acclimated to it by then. A possible dark horse to knock off Ohio State and win the Leaders division. A disappointing end to a fun and exciting season. 8-4 (4-4).
So there you have it, an 8-4 overall record with a 4-4 record in Big 10 play. Not overly spectacular but for a team facing these sanctions, it’s more than acceptable. Of course, this could all change with they would pull a shocker against Michigan or Ohio State or get a bounce or two against Nebraska or Wisconsin. It could also go all horribly wrong if they stumble early and never recover. That’s the great thing about college football, you can never fully predict what is going to happen, all you can say for sure is that it’s going to be damn fun to watch. We Are!