Outlook On Penn State’s Remaining Big Ten Opponents
Penn State has had a fantastic start to its season, as the team remains undefeated through its first four games. As the Nittany Lions prepare for their upcoming slate of Big Ten opponents, let’s look at those teams and some standout players to be on the lookout for.
Teams Penn State won’t play:
There are two specific teams missing from Penn State’s Big Ten schedule that could ultimately bolster the team’s chances at a Big Ten title run. Wisconsin and Nebraska are absent from the schedule, but more importantly, the Penn State front seven won’t have to face Badgers’ running back Melvin Gordon and Cornhuskers’ running back Ameer Abdullah, who have combined for a total of 1,056 yards and 11 touchdowns to date. Yeah, that’s a lot of yardage. Not to say that the defense couldn’t contain Abdullah or Gordon, but these are two of the premiere backs in the nation. Gameplanning for players of this caliber is nearly impossible, and matching up with them could lead to nightmare mismatches at other ends of the field.
Northwestern is a struggling team whose only win has come against lowly Western Illinois. After losing leading rusher Venric Mark in the offseason to transfer, the team has been unable to efficiently move the ball. Quarterback Trevor Siemian has been erratic throughout the first three games of the season, posting a 59.1 completion percentage while going 65-110 for 614 yards. The defense has been porous, as it has given up an average of 397 yards per game, and has never really given the offense a chance to stay in games. Even worse, the defense hasn’t competed against what you would consider a “powerhouse” offense. It isn’t much of a test to face a Cal team that won only one game in 2013, a depleted Northern Illinois team that lacked 2013 Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch, and a Western Illinois team competing in the FCS. Northwestern is far from being a complete team, and should not be too tough to handle.
This won’t be happening against the Wolverines this season, but the team remains relatively intact from last season’s matchup. In reality, the Wolverines have a solid set of receivers, but no quarterback that can consistently get them the ball. It is still unknown who head coach Brady Hoke will choose to throw passes, as there is currently a quarterback controversy brewing in Ann Arbor featuring incumbent Devin Gardner and blue-chip backup Shane Morris. Gardner certainly hasn’t shown that he deserves the starting job thus far, tossing six interceptions while playing very inconsistently. The thing is, Shane Morris hasn’t necessarily taken command of the job either. Morris went 4-13 for 42 yards and a pick in his relief effort this past Saturday against Utah. Wide receiver Devin Funchess, the lone offensive bright spot, has 20 receptions for 284 yards and three touchdowns, but said he’ll play in pain for the rest of the season. The defense isn’t bad, but it is often put in a bad position by the offense. There’s only so much the unit can do when the offense averages three turnovers per game.
This team has holes all over the place, and features an offense that has put up a whopping 34 points through four games. Yikes. That doesn’t bode too well for the rest of the season, which might be hard to watch for Michigan fans.
Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes were handed a crushing blow in the offseason after learning that they would be without star quarterback Braxton Miller for the entire season. Freshman J.T. Barrett was then handed the keys to the offense, and has done quite nicely. He has nine touchdowns in three games, and a lot of that is because of the arsenal of receivers surrounding him. Wide receiver Michael Thomas has 11 catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns, establishing himself as Barrett’s go-to guy. His numbers at the end of the season could be eye-popping, and will be a handful for the Nittany Lion secondary when the two teams square off. Opposite him is Devin Smith, who has developed a knack for the deep ball. With five catches, 211 yards and two touchdowns, I’d say that’s a fair assumption.
The Buckeyes’ defense is quite good, but not impenetrable. With a stout defensive line that has developed a reputation for causing mayhem, and a linebacking corps who has been solid as well, the front seven have been impressive. Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer showed the secondary is vulnerable after throwing for two touchdowns, but Brewer’s two interceptions show that it still has some skill.
Ohio State is a beatable team, but at the same time can be very dangerous in spurts. If Penn State can take down the Buckeyes for the first time since 2011, it will be in a strong position to make a run at the Big Ten East title.
Led by dual threat quarterback C.J. Brown, the Terrapins are a dark horse in the Big Ten. Brown, who leads the Terrapins in rushing and passing, is a threat in every aspect, posing an issue for opposing defenses. Wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Marcus Leak are to Maryland just as DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis are to Penn State. They are both big time playmakers who could score any time the ball is in their hands. The defense has been solid thus far, but just lost starting defensive end Quinton Jefferson for the season, leaving a hole on the defensive line. It’s important not to sleep on the Terrapins as the season progresses, because they won’t be going away any time soon.
Indiana may be the toughest team in the nation to figure out. It lost to Bowling Green in week two, yet took down No. 18 Missouri on the road. That would be the same Bowling Green that got clobbered 68-17 (!) against Wisconsin, and the same Missouri team that had won its prior three games by an average of about 24 points.
A big reason for Indiana’s recent success is running back Tevin Coleman, a guy that not nearly enough people are talking about. Remember when I said that Penn State wouldn’t have to face Melvin Gordon or Ameer Abdullah? Well, the Nittany Lions have to play Coleman, who has racked up 569 yards and six touchdowns thus far. Better yet, his backup D’Angelo Roberts has put up 214 yards and three touchdowns. The team’s rushing attack ranks 10th nationally, which makes it incredibly dangerous. Indiana’s defense has been average, which will either kill the team or keep the offense in games long enough for the team’s rushing attack to crush opponents. James Franklin should not look forward to facing the Hoosiers, especially on the road. I’m sure fans will actually show up this year if the team is still competitive at that point.
The Fighting Illini have quarterback Wes Lunt, and that’s about it. The team may be 3-1, but don’t let that fool you. Those wins came against Youngstown State, Western Kentucky, and Texas State. Those games were all reasonably close, too. The team lost to Washington to the tune of 44-19 in Week 3, and with Nebraska up next, the “successful” season so far should come crashing back to reality.
Lunt, who transferred from Oklahoma State last year, is the team’s only bright spot. Thus far, he has gone 100-152 for 1,237 yards and 11 touchdowns, and has done so without much help. Big Ten Conference play for Illinois will not be pleasant, so watching Lunt might be as good as it gets for Illinois fans. The defense ranks 103rd overall in points against, while the rushing attack ranks 113th. Wes Lunt is not a player to be slept on, but the rest of the team might not be too difficult to handle. This team is not very good, and its record at the end of the year should be indicative of that. At least the team’s jerseys are pretty sweet?
The Spartans should be the team that stands between Penn State and a berth in the Big Ten Championship game. So far, the Spartans look like big-time contenders themselves, and should remain in the top 10 for most of the season. Connor Cook still looks like the quarterback who led the Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory last season, and has progressed even more since then. The ground game is also a force to be reckoned with, averaging more than 220 yards per game on the backs of Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill.
Defensively, what else would you expect from a Michigan State team? Toughness, fearlessness, and tenacity embody this defensive unit, led by star defensive end and potential WWE superstar Shilique Calhoun. The Spartans will be dominant all season long, and should set up a memorable season-ending showdown with the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley.
Penn State’s remaining Big Ten Conference opponents will not be easy to defeat, but all matchups are winnable. It is college football, after all, and you never know what could happen.