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Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Central Florida

We’re just one day away from the first night game of the season. The football team is 2-0 after a dominant win in the home opener against Eastern Michigan last Saturday. The Nittany Lions face off against the UCF Knights tomorrow night and will try and keep that perfect record alive. Kickoff is at 6:00 p.m. Let’s take a look at what our writers think about the game:

Zach Berger:

Penn State 27, UCF 20

The Nittany Lions play their strongest non-conference opponent of the season tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean Penn State isn’t the better team.

This is a game that will look like a defensive battle in the trenches at times and an offensive shootout at others. Both teams will make some big plays in the pass game and both teams will have some big runs, but in the end the Nittany Lions will prevail behind another strong defensive performance. Despite his incredible name, Storm Johnson will feel the wrath of Linebacker U.

Sam Ficken will kick a pair of field goals. Christian Hackenberg will throw a pair of touchdowns. One of the three great running backs on the team will add another score. (As a side note, when are we going to come up with a good nickname for that trio?)

Kevin Horne:

UCF 31, Penn State 20

As much as I hope this doesn’t happen, I can’t pick against UCF. The Knights have played near-perfect football this season, only giving up one touchdown in two games. Of course, Akron and Florida International aren’t exactly powerhouses, but there’s no doubt UCF will be the toughest challenge for the Nittany Lions so far.

There are so many uncertainties in this game that it’s hard to make an educated prediction. Christian Hackenberg could come out slinging and picking apart UCF’s defense. The opposite is also plausible. With such inexperience, it’s really hard to know what you’re going to get.

If Penn State can get the run game going like it did last week, it should be in okay shape. For now, though, I think UCF is the real deal.

Mike Reisman:

Penn State 34, UCF 24

UCF is a stronger team than most people would probably recognize or give it credit for. UCF went 10-4 last year including a definitive win in the Beef O’ Brady bowl and blew out its first two teams in the 2013 campaign. Its offense has been rolling and their defense is currently ranked 4th in points against per game with 3.5. Really, this seems like it could be a classic trap game.

However, UCF is still a small conference team who played two horrible opponents to open the season. Even last year, none of its wins were against any particularly good teams, making it really hard to believe that, coming into a crazy, primetime game at Beaver Stadium with a student whiteout, they will have any real chance to defeat a very good Penn State team. As long as Christian Hackenberg continues to thrive, the team has any type of running game, and the Nittany Lion defense can at least partially contain UCF’s offense, Penn State should win this one.

Of course, no matter who wins, the joke is on us because UCF players get to go home and enjoy the weather in Florida.

Drew Balis:

Penn State 27 Central Florida 19

Not counting Alabama, this is one of the better non-conference teams Penn State has seen in quite some time. Blake Bortles is an experienced quarterback, and despite facing two weak opponents in Akron and Florida International, the Knights have only surrendered seven points over their first two games.

Central Florida held their own against Ohio State in Columbus early last season, so the atmosphere shouldn’t be too overwhelming for them. Considering how well George O’Leary and Bill O’Brien know each other, there won’t be many surprises as this one comes down to execution.

Another slow start or momentum swinging turnover could doom the Nittany Lions, but they should have enough talent to get by if mistakes are limited.

One guy to watch on defense is Deion Barnes. While he’s quietly played fine, Barnes is still looking for his first sack or that game-changing play. He and a few others force a few turnovers and Hackenberg and the offense do enough to send a night game crowd home undefeated and happy.

Greg Schlosser:

UCF 21, Penn State 17

Call me a Debbie Downer, but I don’t see Penn State winning this one. People seem to severely underestimate the talent that UCF has on their team, which starts with their QB Blake Bortles. The defense isn’t anything to scoff at either, as its allowed only one score the first two games. Sure, they were against cupcake teams, but the team is deep in talent.

I think Christian Hackenberg finally hits his first big speed bump of the season here, and the Penn State defense won’t be able to make up for the lack of offense. As much as it pains me to say this, I see UCF escaping Happy Valley with a win.

Mitchell Wilston:

Penn State 24, UCF 20

Greg Schlosser is a Debbie Downer. Hack is going to hit Allen Robinson late in the fourth and the crowd is going to go wild. Bill O’Brien celebrates by doing the worm on the fifty-yard line and Penn State will get its own .341 girl.

Maddy Pryor:

Penn State 28, UCF 21

Penn State faces its toughest opponent yet against a team that has scored 38 points/game for its first two games. Its been able to completely shut down its opponents on the offensive end, letting up just one touchdown so far this season.

However, Penn State is on an offensive role that will continue so long as it can stay on its toes. The defense has been stellar, and I’m sure DaQuan Jones and Glenn Carson will keep their composure in check.

Some might think this is a cupcake team since it’s so early n the season and the teams UCF has beaten aren’t all-stars, but there’s a reason O’Brien chose to play these guys in Ireland next year. A lot of people are pulling for a UCF upset.

So, it’ll be close, but the home-field, night game, white-out advantage will come into play and give PSU the extra boost it needs to pull out the W.

About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a StateCollege.com reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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