Blue-White Game Countdown / 24 Days: A Way-Too-Early Season Prediction
By Ben Jones
Editor’s note: This is part of a daily series counting down to Penn State’s Blue-White Game April 18.
This really isn’t fair.
Nobody has seen a play yet this season. Not in practice, not at the Blue White game. There is nothing tangible beyond a roster and a schedule to work with.
But one of the offseason’s great traditions is trying to predict how the upcoming season will go. Who will shine, who will struggle and who will simply win games.
So feel free to print this out and save it for the file when the season takes unexpected turns and suddenly the “expert” doesn’t seem so smart after all.
Penn State’s greatest advantage against UCF in last year’s season opener was equal parts Christian Hackenberg and the fact the Nittany Lions’ weaknesses were an unknown. Even technically on the road Penn State should have a pretty solid crowd in its favor, and while Temple is getting better, the Nittany Lions make just enough plays to open up the season like they closed it in the Bronx — with a win.
Even if Penn State gets exposed on the offensive line or struggles on the defensive side of the ball it’s hard to imagine Buffalo being the team to pull the early season upset. Joe Licata isn’t a bad quarterback, but he isn’t the one to pick a part what ought to be a pretty solid secondary this season for Penn State. The Nittany Lions end up 2-0 heading into Rutgers week.
Say what you want about Rutgers football, but it’s foolish to say this isn’t a rivalry game. Given how the schedule plays out this is the best bet for a Whitehouse game and that could spell trouble for the Scarlet Knights. With a new quarterback under center and a lot of questions to be answered this game has to be penciled in as another Penn State win. Even if the Nittany Lions aren’t world beaters just yet, winning a possible night game at Beaver Stadium is never easy for the average visiting team. And Rutgers is probably going to be less than average this year.
Vs. San Diego State:
If nothing else this game brings a certain unique factor into the equation as Penn State plays a new face in Happy Valley. SDSU beat Hawaii on the road last year so travel won’t be an issue, but a rolling Penn State team might be. Games against uncommon foes who fare well in their own conferences (SDSU finished second in its Mountain West division) can spell an upset from time to time. That being said this shouldn’t be the case. Penn State is 4-0 to start in back-to-back seasons.
Service academy teams are well coached and disciplined which can make up for any talent disparities on paper. Army will pound the ball up the middle all afternoon which means Anthony Zettel and company will have plenty of time to shine. If anything it should be a good test for Penn State’s linebacker group prior to the start of Big Ten play. Army’s leading rusher isn’t back this season which means someone else will carry the load for the first time. Army’s physical game won’t make it an easy one to watch, but 5-0 isn’t a bad problem to have.
Sooner or later Penn State is going to have to play a game on the road again, but not just yet. At 5-0 things are either as good as advertised or the Nittany Lions haven’t found a team that can call them out for their weaknesses. The Hoosiers will still have options at quarterback with experience under center, but losing Tevin Coleman to the NFL takes away a good one-two punch on the ground. If the Nittany Lions are a legit 5-0 then they’ll win this game. If Penn State is 5-0 because the schedule is easy then Indiana might just make things interesting. The deciding factor is the lack of Coleman though and Penn State moves on to 6-0.
@ Ohio State:
Suddenly things get harder. The Buckeyes have a few questions to answer in their own right, but it’s hard to imagine that the defending national champs have answers that don’t revolve around winning a lot of games again. Franklin’s first visit to The Shoe will be an interesting one but it’s hard to see the Nittany Lions winning this game. Seven weeks into the season is hard to know for sure, but it’s impossible to assume Penn State will win this game even if doing so wouldn’t be absolutely impossible. If nothing else 6-1 cools down a few perhaps premature hopes and dreams.
Another game at an NFL stadium, Penn State and Maryland play at M&T Bank Stadium because it’s cool and why not. The Nittany Lions aren’t too excited about losing to Ohio State and are even less excited about losing to Maryland the year before. The Terps are a step above where Rutgers is in their early Big Ten tenure and this game ought to be a fun one. Maryland has a bye week heading into the game and Penn State is coming off all the emotions to be found in Columbus. It’s a neutral site but even with Penn State’s reputation it could be a fairly split crowd. A week to prepare is the edge in the this one even if Penn State should be the better team on paper. It’s 6-2 for the Nittany Lions, but a 7-1 record isn’t hard to see if Maryland doesn’t have the quarterback solutions figured out just yet.
Nobody knows what Illinois will look like this year, but it’s hard to imagine it being something you’d want to pay money to watch. But with only two losses on the year and a general dislike for all things orange Penn State fans cough up the cash and the Nittany Lions pick up the win. A loss to Ohio State keeps the Nittany Lions on the outside looking in for a Big Ten title game bid, but that’s not a bad problem to have considering the past few seasons. 7-2 ain’t bad.
Penn State is going to be better this year, but not so much better that inexplicable losses are off the table just yet. So Penn State loses this game simply because the Nittany Lions probably shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter that the Wildcats don’t have a quarterback figured out, Penn State will lose a game it shouldn’t and that will happen here. Even so, 7-3 isn’t horrible.
Michigan is great unknown under Jim Harbaugh. It’s hard to see the Wolverines being bad during his tenure but the first year can always be a little tough. The Wolverines are on the final game of three of four on the road before hosting Ohio State. If this game is the last Christian Hackenberg plays at Beaver Stadium you can’t see him losing it. The Wolverines will be better, but they have question marks no matter who the coach is. Penn State wins, 8-3 with a game to go.
@ Michigan State:
Spartans aren’t going anywhere in the conference and by this point in the season the postseason race will be pretty clear. Penn State won’t win this game for a lot of reasons, most of which will come down to the fact the Spartans are just better. But with a bowl bid wrapped up already and some marquee wins to hang your hat on, Penn State’s 8-4 year heading into the bowl game isn’t too bad.