Game-By-Game Predictions for Penn State's 2014 Season
Christian Hackenberg established himself as a rising star in the Big Ten and PSU is starting to establish a little depth despite all of the scholarship restrictions handed down due to the scandal. So can Penn State continue to climb closer towards the top of the mountain in 2014?
8/30 vs. Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland
Well there’s an interesting way to start the season. Penn State travels across the pond to take on UCF in Dublin. The whole country heard of UCF because of the draft stock of quarterback Blake Bortles. UCF beat Penn State on the road last year on their way to a dream season. Now the best quarterback in this game will be Hackenberg, and I think the best team that day in the land of green will be wearing navy.
9/6 vs. Akron
This is a pretty quick turnaround from the season opener. That being said, assuming Penn State isn’t still suffering from jet lag it should have little trouble with the Zips. Akron is showing signs of improvement under coach Terry Bowden, but isn't ready to have its big breakout game at Beaver Stadium.
9/13 at Rutgers
Penn State begins Big Ten play at Rutgers. It will be the first game for the Scarlet Knights since moving over from the Big East. After this game they may have a change of heart. Rutgers is a program and a team in a very bad place right now. Penn State won’t exactly roll out the welcome mat.
9/20 vs. Massachusetts
The Lions step back into non-conference play for a (pardon my mix of sports metaphors) lay-up against Massachusetts. The only question here is will the Minutemen put up more of a challenge than Rutgers?
9/27 vs. Northwestern
Now we get into the teeth of the Penn State schedule with the most difficult three-game stretch of the season. It begins with Northwestern at home. This is a Wildcat team who could have just as easily been 8-4 instead of 5-7 last year, but a few bad breaks cost them dearly. There is talent in Evanston, especially on offense, but there is not enough firepower to score at will against this Nittany Lion defense returning nine starters from a year ago.
10/11 at Michigan
Last year against No. 18 Michigan was a game for the ages; a four-overtime thriller that Penn State ended up winning 43-40. It was the longest game in conference history and was the coming out party for Hackenberg – who ended up with Big Ten AND National Freshman of the week honors. Penn State will have two weeks to prepare for Michigan this time, but I think it will take more overtime magic to get a win in the Big House. I want to put an asterisk next to this one. Michigan is a team very much teetering between success and failure. If Devin Gardner is flat (like he was in many games last year) this could be the statement game of the season for Penn State again.
10/25 vs. Ohio State
When Penn State arrived in the Big Ten, this was a tremendous rivalry. But the Lions have only beaten the Buckeyes once in the last five years, and last year Ohio State destroyed PSU to the tune of 63-14. There is a lot of talk about this year’s OSU team making a big splash nationally, not just in the B1G. Even though the game is in Happy Valley, this will be just another step on the path to the Buckeyes’ ultimate goal.
11/8 at Indiana
For the second year in a row Penn State travels to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the Hoosiers. Last year was a trip PSU fans are still trying to forget. The Lions unraveled in their first-ever loss to Indiana, giving up 23 fourth-quarter points in the 44-24 shocker. Many called it the low point in the O’Brien era. Indiana has a good offense, but can’t stop anyone, so I can’t imagine this being a repeat performance for Penn State, who will want to take out its aggressions after getting punched in the mouth the previous week.
11/15 vs. Temple
Sandwiched in between Big Ten games is a nice visit from Temple. I say nice because the Owls won only two games last year and certainly aren’t ready for the bright lights of Beaver Stadium (although let’s be honest, this will likely be a noon kickoff). This is just what the doctor ordered, especially if Penn State has lost two of the last three games.
11/22 at Illinois
This is an Illinois team getting a shot in the arm from Oklahoma State transfer quarterback Wes Lunt. This is also an Illinois team who is filling a lot of holes on offense and ranked 11 out of 12 in the conference in total defense last season. That’s just what Hackenberg and company likes to hear.
11/29 vs. Michigan State
Because of the postseason ban this will be the last game of 2014 for the Nittany Lions. What a tough way to go out. I think Michigan State is on its way to a conference championship, and will have everything on the line as it comes into Beaver Stadium. This should be an incredibly entertaining game – featuring two of the conference’s best quarterbacks (Hackenberg and Connor Cook), but in the end it will be Michigan State’s imposing defense that will be the difference.
So that makes 9-3 for Penn State in year one under Franklin. I think if you asked Penn State fans three years ago, in the middle of everything that went wrong with the program, if they would be satisfied with 9-3 in 2014 you would get an overwhelming response of “absolutely”.
The schedule is very kind to Penn State. The game in Ireland is a bit of a toss-up, but as long as Penn State doesn’t suffer a setback against Northwestern or Indiana there’s no reason not to be happy in Happy Valley this year.