It feels like every year is a new beginning around the Penn State program over last half a decade. After just two seasons in Happy Valley head coach Bill O’Brien took off for the greener pastures of the NFL, and Penn State went out and got the hottest name in college football coaching — James Franklin, formerly of Vanderbilt.
Since arriving on campus the energy level around the program has picked up a notch or 10. It’s already shown in the crazy hot streak Franklin has been on on the recruiting trail, but now that the season is upon us it is time for production on the field.
Yet, nothing at Penn State under NCAA sanctions has ever been as easy as it seems, and in 2014 the sanctions appear to finally be taking a toll on the team. Depth is a major concern all over the program, and it’s on Franklin to figure out how to combat that issue and get this team to keep winning football games.
Will he get the Nittany Lions to a winning record? Let’s take a look at the schedule and see if that is a possibility in our eyes.
Aug. 30 – vs. UCF: WIN
You can see my full preview for the game here, but this is a game that can’t be slept on if you’re Penn State. It’s tempting to think that without Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson UCF is in trouble. However, you don’t get to the Fiesta Bowl on the backs of just two players. UCF is going to be a very tough out for PSU once again, but Hackenberg will find a way to work some magic and lead the Nittany Lions to victory.
Sept. 6 – vs. Akron: WIN
Akron proved that it’s near upset of Michigan wasn’t a fluke last season by going 5-7 and 4-4 in MAC play. Believe it or not, that’s reason to celebrate if you’re a Zips fan. Terry Bowden has the program heading in a positive direction, but Penn State should have plenty of offensive firepower to make this a win. The only worry is coming off a crazy trip to Dublin for the season opener.
Sept. 13 – at Rutgers: WIN
While it was impressive seeing Rutgers go out West and win a football game on Thursday night, Washington State isn’t Penn State, and there’s no way any team runs all over the Nittany Lions like that. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see two PSU running backs go for over 100 yards each in another impressive win.
Sept. 20 – vs. UMass: WIN
UMass has taken it’s lumps since moving up to the FBS level, and that’s what happens when you fail to pull the trigger on being really good at the FCS level and make your move after that ship has sailed. The talent gap is so massive between these two teams, PSU should walk away with an easy victory and get some momentum going before they head in to the rough part of the Big Ten schedule.
Sept. 27 – vs. Northwestern: WIN
Predicting anything Northwestern has been an exercise in futility, but us sports writers are glutens for punishment I guess. For me, this is the most difficult game to predict for the Nittany Lions because when on, stopping the Northwestern offense is nearly impossible. Same could be said about James Franklin-led offenses at Vanderbilt. The decider is having this game at home, so look for this one to be sneaky close.
Oct. 11 – at Michigan: LOSS
A 5-0 start would be a dream for Franklin, especially given the fact that Franklin hasn’t had much success with season openers to date. However, the schedule has been pretty soft up until this point. Heading to Michigan is not going to be fun, and I have a feeling Doug Nussmeier will have the offense ready for the Big Ten challenge. It means a win at home for the Maize ‘N Blue.
Oct. 25 – vs. Ohio State: LOSS
Remember that whole “soft” part of the schedule? Well, this ain’t it. Penn State’s advantage is playing this one at home against a freshman quarterback not named Braxton Miller. There’s a chance we see an upset here, but I see too much talent and too much going for the Buckeyes up front to allow a PSU win. Don’t be surprised if this one goes to OT though.
Nov. 1 – vs. Maryland: WIN
Now that the rough part of the schedule is over, it’s time to get back to winning ways. Penn State and Maryland renew a once bitter rivalry to kick off the final month of the CFB regular season, and after two brutal games it’ll be nice to see something a bit easier across the line from the Nittany Lions. That’s where I see the advantage for Penn State, who have the better defensive line and cause more trouble in the opposing backfield. Look for Maryland to give PSU a test for three quarters before Hackenberg takes over with a pair of TDs to win it for the Nittany Lions.
Nov. 8 – at Indiana: LOSS
Deja vu (and not all over again…that’s completely redundant folks) strikes in this one. Last season the Hoosiers took down Penn State in one of the more shocking games of the Big Ten season. With this one coming in November I have a feeling we’ll see a depleted PSU squad come in to Bloomington and we’ll see a bit more of what went down a season ago. Indiana has gotten better, Penn State is about the same as it was last season, if not a notch below that. It’s a recipe for a Hoosiers win.
Nov. 15 – vs. Temple: WIN
While getting out of Big Ten mode is not always easy in the middle of November, it isn’t a contest like Wisconsin had with BYU. Temple isn’t a real threat to Penn State and despite a likely depleted roster, there should be plenty of fire power available to win going away. Anything other than a two to three touchdown victory would be surprising.
Nov. 22 – at Illinois: LOSS
Illinois may not be a great football team, but they are an improving one. Last season the Illini proved they could score on anyone, and this season it appears the defense is turning the corner. This was a complete toss up game for me, and I believe Illinois wins it because they have the superior offensive line and the deeper OL. Come late November in the Big Ten, that stuff matters a lot.
Nov. 29 – at Michigan State: LOSS
Penn State seems to find a way to fight through a lot of adversity, but Michigan State may be looking a trip to the Rose Bowl for one of two College Football Playoff semi finals right in the face. If there’s one thing I know about Mark Dantonio coached teams, it’s that they aren’t going to give up games they need to win.
Overall Record: 7-5
Big Ten Record: 3-5