Penn State Football Season Preview
When the Penn State Nittany Lions take the field this Saturday, it will be the beginning of what many see as a season filled with potential. The Nittany Lions start the season ranked No. 6 in the country, their highest preseason ranking since 1999, when Penn State began the season ranked No. 3.
The last time Penn State began a season ranked No. 6 in the country – 1986. The result of that season was a national championship.
The 2017 schedule has many tough opponents, and many places where a bad weekend could result in a loss, and the end of that championship dream. Now let’s pull apart Penn State’s schedule, week by week.
Week 1 – Akron
To start the season off, Penn State gets a shot at the Zips. Akron returns 15 starters from a 5-7 campaign in 2016. In five previous meetings, Penn State has never lost to the Zips.
If Penn State comes out and plays at their ability level, Akron shouldn’t put up a fight. I expect the Nittany Lions to win big.
Week 2 – Pittsburgh
Saturday, September 9, is a date circled on Penn State’s calendar. This will be Pitt’s first visit to Beaver Stadium since 1999, and revenge is in order for last year’s result. Pitt will be without senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis and junior safety Jordan Whitehead after being suspended for a violation of team policy.
I expect Penn State to come out ready to play, as the 1986 National Championship team is honored, and ‘2016’ is unveiled on the stadium suites. The Nittany Lions should win again, taking care of the Panthers.
Week 3 – Georgia State
The first night game of 2017 will take place against the Georgia State Panthers of the Sun Belt Conference. Last season, the Panthers were 3-9, with all three wins coming at home.
For the third home game in a row, Penn State should come out victorious, leaving their season-opening home streak at 3-0.
Week 4 – at Iowa
Last year’s Iowa squad was 8-5, with a loss in the Outback Bowl. Offense will be important for Penn State, as they face preseason First Team All-America nominee Josey Jewell. Jewell, the middle linebacker for the Hawkeyes, led his team in tackles last season with 124.
Although a much more difficult game for Penn State than their first three, I expect them to edge out a win. This could be one of two potential trap games for the Nittany Lions. Kinnick Stadium is a very difficult place to play - especially if this is a night game.
Week 5 – Indiana
After a one-game road trip, Penn State returns home for a game against the Hoosiers.
While Indiana looks like they can take a step forward this season, I believe Penn State will be victorious in the first “Generations of Greatness” game held at Beaver Stadium.
Week 6 – at Northwestern
The Wildcats finished last year with a 7-6 record, beating then-No. 23 Pitt in the Pinstripe Bowl. 16 starters return for head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s 12th season as the head man in Evanston. This group is highlighted by running back Justin Jackson. Jackson led the Big Ten in rushing with 1,524 yards last season.
The Northwestern game has been well-publicized as Penn State’s “trap game.” With White Out and a match against Michigan looming in the near future, it would be easy for the Nittany Lions to overlook the Wildcats, and walk away from Evanston disappointed. If Penn State doesn’t do that, they have a good chance to win.
Week 7 – Bye Week
Week 8 – Michigan
Michigan comes to town for White Out, and the game should be in the national spotlight. Both teams have a chance of coming into this game undefeated, possibly attracting College Gameday back to Beaver Stadium. After a 10-3 campaign in 2016, the Wolverines find themselves ranked No. 11 to start the season.
Michigan returns only five starters from last season, but coach Jim Harbaugh has a lot of young talent to work with. White Out conditions will aid the Nittany Lions, and in a close one, they’ll squeeze out a victory.
Week 9 – at Ohio State
Penn State will make the trip to the horseshoe coming directly off a tough game against Michigan the week prior. The Buckeyes begin the season ranked No. 2 in the AP poll, and look to be strong contenders again this year for not only a Big Ten Championship, but also a National Championship.
Ohio State returns 15 starters to a team who appeared in the College Football Playoff last season after finishing the regular season 11-1. If Penn State wants to repeat last season’s result, they are going to have to give it everything. This is the toughest game on Penn State’s schedule, and if they win, they certainly will have earned it.
Week 10 – at Michigan State
Last time Penn State and Michigan State met, the Nittany Lions defeated the 3-9 Spartans and hoisted the Big Ten East Division trophy. The Nittany Lions will meet a very young Spartan squad, and I believe the inexperience will show.
This year, with only the Land Grant Trophy on the line, I expect the result to be the same.
Week 11 – Rutgers
Rutgers comes to Beaver Stadium in what should be a good game for the Nittany Lions. If Penn State executes, the Nittany Lions should head into Senior Day fresh off a victory.
Week 12 – Nebraska
Senior Day and the Stripe Out set the scene for Nebraska’s visit to Happy Valley. Last year’s Husker squad was 9-4, with a loss to Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Nebraska is a good team, with a lot of potential.
The magic of Senior Day will be enough for the Nittany Lions, however, and they will finish the season undefeated at home, just like they were one season ago.
Week 13 – at Maryland
The final game of the regular season comes on the road at the University of Maryland. Last season, Maryland finished with a record of 6-7, including a loss to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl. This season, Maryland returns 32 players who have started at least one college game.
Maryland always plays a physical game against the Nittany Lions, and this will be no different. When the final whistle blows, however, I expect Penn State to be victorious.
Ben Jenkins is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. He can be reached at email@example.com.