Big Ten Preview: Evaluating The Threats Ahead For The Nittany Lions
Penn State kicks off Big Ten play Friday with a road clash against Illinois.
The schedule makers did the Nittany Lions a favor by sending most of their toughest opponents to Happy Valley, but can the Beaver Stadium win streak survive another season?
Here’s a look at each of Penn State’s nine conference opponents this season and how threatening they are to the Nittany Lions’ conference and national title hopes.
Illinois (Threat Level: Low)
This game should serve as a pretty easy start to Big Ten play for James Franklin’s squad. The Illini struggled mightily to put away Kent State in week one, barely seeing off the Golden Flashes 31-24.
The Nittany Lions are coming off of a 63-10 against Kent State, so they should brush aside Illinois just as easily, even in a Friday night game.
Ohio State (Threat Level: High)
Penn State famously beat the Buckeyes with an improbable blocked field goal return for a touchdown two seasons ago. Ohio State overcame a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to stun the Nittany Lions last season. Will we get a third nail-biter this season?
Buckeye quarterback Dwayne Haskins will be making his first start in Beaver Stadium. The young signal caller has been impressive in his first three games, but will he be able to handle a White Out atmosphere? Expect a high scoring game that might just come down to which team gets the ball last.
Michigan State (Threat Level: Medium)
It’s not easy to figure out exactly what the Spartans are at this point in the season. They’ve been unimpressive in two games so far, barely avoiding a home upset in week one against Utah State and losing the following week against Arizona State.
Mark Dantonio’s teams are always fundamentally sound, and Michigan State did take down the Nittany Lions last season, so this game might not be as straightforward for Penn State as it appears. However, a Homecoming crowd in Beaver Stadium should certainly help.
Indiana (Threat Level: Medium)
The Hoosiers have gotten themselves off to a perfect 3-0 start to the season, albeit against lackluster competition. While Penn State handled Indiana pretty easily last season with a 45-14 stomping, the team’s last three visits to Bloomington have all been difficult contests.
The Nittany Lions’ only loss against Indiana came back on a road trip to Bloomington in 2013, and they escaped with victories that were far too close for comfort in 2014 and 2016. Indiana away is never as straightforward as it’s supposed to be for Penn State.
Iowa (Threat Level: Medium)
Everybody remember last season’s game against Iowa? Yeah, that was a heart stopper.
This time around the Nittany Lions shouldn’t have to rely on a last-second Trace McSorley touchdown pass to defeat the Hawkeyes. Iowa is much less dangerous away from Kinnick Stadium, so expect a relatively comfortable win for Penn State this season.
Michigan (Threat Level: High)
A road trip to the Big House could prove to be Penn State’s toughest test of the season. New starting quarterback Shea Patterson has added dynamite to an offense that was somewhat stale at times last season with Wilton Speight and John O’Korn lining up under center.
Penn State’s last trip to Ann Arbor didn’t go to plan, so the team will be out for revenge this season. If James Franklin’s young Nittany Lions can rise to the occasion in a hostile environment, it could go a long way toward proving that they’re legitimate College Football Playoff contenders.
Wisconsin (Threat Level: High)
The Badgers started off their season with two very convincing wins over Western Kentucky and New Mexico State before a shock loss to BYU.
The Badgers once again have a fantastic rushing attack, led by Heisman contender Jonathan Taylor. Taylor’s rushing yardage through three games — 515 yards — is just 15 yards less than the total accumulated by all of Penn State’s running backs so far this season.
Wisconsin’s passing game, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook can manage a game well, but can he push the ball down field when needed?
Rutgers (Threat Level: Low)
This game has all the making of a total mismatch on both sides of the ball. The Scarlet Knights are already off to another bad start, dropping two out of their first three games to start the season.
Penn State has outscored Rutgers 102-9 in the last three meetings between the two teams. Not much should change this time around.
Maryland (Threat Level: Low)
The Terrapins have gotten themselves off to a decent start this season despite the uncertainty surrounding the program. Wins in their first two games over Texas and Bowling Green were followed up by a disappointing loss to Temple last week.
Maryland is a team trying to keep its head above water and possibly sneak into a low-level bowl game. The Nittany Lions shouldn’t have any trouble with the Terrapins in their final game of the season, especially if they still have something to play for by that point.
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About the Author
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