It's almost that time of year again. In just eight short days, we'll have a much better idea of what to expect from the Nittany Lions this year. Until then, we try to take our best guess as to how the 2013 season will shake out for dear ol' State.
I'd also like to add that last year this post drew the ire of some Iowa fans who thought we were ridiculous for predicting Penn State would win more than three games. Then this happened.
Let's look at the schedule this way:
Games they definitely should win -- Eastern Michigan, Kent State, at Indiana, Illinois, at Minnesota, Purdue.
Games they probably should win -- Syracuse, UCF.
Games they probably shouldn't win -- Michigan, Nebraska, at Wisconsin.
Games they shouldn't win -- at Ohio State.
Of those first two lists, I think they win every game. Done. That's eight wins right there. Of those last two, I think they lose at Ohio State and at Wisconsin. Semi-controversial opinion: I think the Ohio State game is closer than the Wisconsin game (Penn State has a bye the week before they play Ohio State, Wisconsin is a bit underrated this year, revenge game for PSU, etc.). Regardless, there's two losses.
The two games that I believe would decide whether the team goes 8-4, 9-3 or 10-2 are against Michigan and Nebraska. I think Penn State beats Michigan -- it's Michigan's second road game of the year, Beaver Stadium will be rocking, it's homecoming weekend, and I hate Michigan more than any other school, among other reasons.
As for Nebraska, I think Penn State loses that game. Yes, it's home finale and it'll probably be a later game, but I think Taylor Martinez is the Heisman darkhorse this year (remind me of this when he has his inevitable 4-19 passing performance this year), Ameer Abdullah is a stud, and Nebraska is the most underrated team in the Big Ten, mostly because Wisconsin made them their bee-otch in the Big Ten title game last year. Close game, Nebraska wins it at the end.
End of the day, Penn State is 9-3. I'll take that. Happily. I'll also predict that the sanctions go out the window after this year due to the school's compliance, Penn State goes 11-1 in 2014 and wins the Rose Bowl. I can dream, can't I?
I'm answering this question as I sit here getting ready to be introduced as a student teacher to the entire District, so I'm feeling good right now. I'm going to be bold and say 10-2. My original prediction was 9-3, because I thought the UCF game was going to be the typical early season loss, but Bill pointed out some key factors that swayed my opinion (Night game, rehearsal for Ireland). That being said, I think when we meet with Ohio State (and lose to Ohio State), it will be a battle of undefeated teams. Aside from Michigan (Whiteout, Night Game, we ain't losing), the schedule is pretty soft up until we face off with the Buckeyes. Even with a B1G rookie starting at QB, I think we'll be okay. I think the other loss is going to come to either Nebraska or Wisconsin. As much as I want to say this will be the year we beat Nebraska, I'm just not sure if I see it. Yes, their defense is still atrocious, and our offense should be well into their rhythm by then, but I just get a bad feeling from the Cornhuskers. Taylor Martinez, to his credit, did improve as a passer last season. With another offseason to work, he should come back even better. As far as Wisconsin, we are clearly the superior team. However, the game is still taking place in Madison, in what could be a very important game for their B1G Championship aspirations. All in all, while I think we'll lose two of the three games biggest games on our schedule, it will still be a wildly successful season, and lay the foundation for the 2014 season.
It's hard to say just how good this Penn State team will be, if for no other reason than because, as I write this, we still don't have a quarterback. (Or any depth at linebacker, but we'll get to that). The good news is that the rest of the team is chock full of known quantities. The offensive line returns 3 starters, and plugs in two guys with oodles of experience. The corps of skill players is not only battle tested, but shockingly deep--and not just for a team with 65 scholarship players. And while there are questions along the defense, there's a reasonably attainable baseline, given that Deion Barnes is still Deion Barnes, Glenn Carson and Mike Hull are still Glenn Carson and Mike Hull, Adrian Amos is still Adrian Amos, and Larry Johnson is still Larry Johnson. That means that somewhere in that glut of talented defensive lineman, he'll likely find the next Jordan Hill or Devon Still or Jared Odrick, and another half dozen players to soak up plenty of playing time. The secondary is young, but has far more depth than last year's crew--enough to actually run out a nickel package--and John Butler ought to know better than anyone how good they can be. If you took this year's supporting package and airlifted in 2012 Matt McGloin, you'd have, fundamentally, the same kind of team as last year--one that can hang with just about anybody in the conference, but that has a low margin of error, and god forbid anyone--especially a linebacker--gets hurt. Ben Kline's injury already looms large, and if he's not ready by next week, the Lions are in real trouble. But they stayed mostly healthy last year, and you can't predict who, if anyone, will get hurt.
The much bigger issue is that we don't have McMoxie, or even the kind of quarterback we thought he'd be before coming out of nowhere to actually be good--and not just good for him, for a former walk-on, for someone we'd all been hoping, loudly, would get passed over for Paul Jones. We have two kids who've never thrown a pass at this level, who apparently haven't looked like gangbusters this spring and summer, either. Christian Hackenberg will likely be a very good quarterback at some point in his Penn State career, but expecting greatness from a true freshman is a recipe for disaster. And if it's Tyler Ferguson that BOB picks, well, at least he's got some experience, but it sure as hell won't be easy to compete with the pressure of a 5-star, blue-chip, can't-miss guy who everyone would rather see starting breathing down your neck. If either can be an unspectacular game manager, then this is an 8-win team. If either can step in from day one and produce like McGloin did, then we might be looking at a 10-win group. And if either struggles--in that situation, if both struggle--well, you'd have to think the schedule and the defense and the running game will be enough to get this team to 6 wins. The former seems more probable than the latter, but the middle suggestion is the least likely. All I know is that there's no way in hell we should give up on this team. A loss to Syracuse wouldn't come as a shock, but it wouldn't be the portent a long year. Like last year, this will be a team that gets better as the year goes on, that plays its best football, depth be damned, down the stretch and against the best competition. Gun to my head, I'll say 8-4, but there's very little that would surprise me in BOB's second year.
My brain is telling me that won't happen, but this is the time of year for every fan to be overly-optimistic, right?? There is much to like about this team. The coaching staff finally had a full offseason to implement their system. The players have another year in Fitz' strength and conditioning program under their belt. The offense is loaded with skill players and should tout an impressive offensive line. The secondary is much deeper and experienced than at this point last year. Finally, the defensive line has the potential to be one of the best units of the past several seasons, which is really saying something.
There are many things to worry about, though. I think the inexperience at quarterback could cost the team a game against Syracuse or Central Florida. Our defense could be easily attacked if one or two of the starters at linebacker have to miss playing time. Also, I have a weird feeling that this is the year Indiana finally gets its first win against Penn State. My guy was correct last year going into the Ohio game, so it's hard for me to feel comfortable about having the same type of thoughts against the Hoosiers.
Back to being overly optimistic, I'll say Penn State manages to go undefeated in non-conference play, followed by a 5-3 B10 showing. These games include a cathartic win against Nebraska and a srupisingly solid win at Wisconsin. On the flip side I'll predict a 17-point loss to Ohio State after another rough second half against the Buckeyes, a heartbreaking last-minute loss to Michigan, and a beyond-frustrating loss to the Hoosiers where everything that can possibly goes wrong, does.
Syracuse is exactly the type of team I do NOT want to play to start the season, sporting a brand new Division 1A QB. That Scott Shafer dude runs out a new defensive formation for each of the first 20 plays, and blitzes the bee-jee-bus out of you all game long. If they were the 10th game of the season, I'd feel differently about the match up. But they aren't.
UCF, conversely, might blitz twice all game, and maybe substitutes into a different look the same amount - that is, almost never. But, they gave Ohio State all they could handle at the 'Shoe last year, playing vanilla football, with a younger squad that returns most of its offensive and defensive playmakers. They, too, are going to be a very tough out.
Kent State? I don't know, but they have a fast, little guy that's difficult to tackle, and they won 10 games last year. In other words, Kent State have one more fast little guy than Ohio did in 2012, with a comparable amount of prior success/experience. Ergo, they, too, could be a tough out.
Penn State, on the other hand, has: a) 66 scholarship players; b) zero concrete idea about what to expect from the new QB, whoever he might be; c) a difficult time running a scout team o-line at tackle today, before injuries; and d) a schedule that is more difficult than last year, with conference opponents who should, all things considered, be better on average than they were last year. Eastern Michigan looks like the only opponent on the schedule against whom PSU could cough up three turnovers and still win. And young QB's tend to make non-pastry turnovers.
But nothing bad has happened yet, they've faced zero adversity, and it's still officially summer. So put me down for 12-0.
Generally, I like to be pessimistic about these things. I find if I'm pessimistic, then the outcome can only be good for me, because it's one of two things:
a) I'm right. And that's always awesome.
b) We do better than I expect. And that's also always awesome.
So, pessimistically I'm going to say 7-5. Look at me, being all Debbie Downer! Especially since I predicted we'd get second in the division a few weeks ago! Hey, I'm a woman. I can change my mind #cueallthestereotypes
I know, I know, we return a heckuva lot and we have great potential. And if we didn't have depth issues, and if I didn't think we'd wear down by the end of the season, I'd pick us 9-3 or 10-2. I just think that by the end of the season, we'll be tired. We'll have fought it out in the trenches, and while we'll be able to give Wisconsin a run for their money, we won't be able to pull it out this year at the end.
So, 7-5 it is, with losses to OSU, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan. But, Cari, you say! That's only four losses!
And to that I say, you're right. Math is hard (unless you're John Urschel). The fifth loss is a toss up for me between UCF and Indiana (yes, Indiana--those shirts will be vintage soon). It won't be a horrible season by any stretch, but I don't think it'll be as inspiring as last year.
Of course, I'd also love it if I'm wrong.
Guys, I don't know.
Even if I knew who the quarterback was, I still wouldn't know. Huge success stories from first-year signal-callers do not come around as often as you think and while the trio of Thunder (Zack Zwinak), Lightning (Bill Belton) and OMGGETTHEHELLOUTOFTHEWAY (Akeel Lynch) look to be a formidable backfield for any defense to have to stop, the Lions will have to pass the ball at some point if they want to move down the field in games against tougher competition. An experienced group of wideouts and tight ends along with a stout offensive line make this transition easier, of course, but a lot will be riding on the shoulders of either (or both) Tyler Ferguson/Christian Hackenberg in 2013.
This comes in addition to the fact that Linebacker U doesn't have many linebackers to put out on the field this year. If depth issues are going to take place this season, it's going to happen on the defensive side of the ball. And while this isn't your grandfather's "three yards and a cloud of dust" Big Ten, the Penn State defense will still need to show up healthy and ready to go each week for every team's best shot.
Last year, I predicted 9-3 even after the sanctions hit and Silas Redd and Justin Brown left because I knew the talent on that team and the determination to prove the entire world wrong would allow that team to not miss as many beats as many prognosticators thought. This year, however, it gets somewhat bleak after the first line of the depth chart and that chip on the team's shoulder is not quite as big. The non-conference schedule has three games that Penn State cannot take lightly and the likes of athletic quarterbacks such as Devin Gardner, Braxton Miller and Taylor Martinez later in the season when injuries will begin to take their toll definitely leave me unsettled.
With all that being said, I believe in BOB. I believe in Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden to hold serve when the defense gets run ragged. And I believe in Penn State to never ever let an opponent out-passion them.
Put me down for another 8-4 season (losses to Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and a surprise) because when meteorologists don't know what's going to happen, persistence can be a decent forecasting tool. Don't yell at me when I'm completely wrong either way.
Nick B. : 9-3
I'm going with 9-3. From the distant view of August, the only game on the schedule that I'm really sour on is Ohio State in Columbus, but I also expect injuries and depth issues to cause some problems late in the year. To be honest, I would not be shocked by 7-5, or 12-0 for that matter, there's still a lot of uncertainty and this team lost a lot of important guys from last year and it'll depend how the next man up steps in until I can get a better grasp on the floor/ceiling for this squad.
Being the dreamer that I am, my eternally optimistic football predictions might be a little too much to hope for. I’m also fairly superstitious so I’m not even extremely comfortable saying this, but we’re not going to lose in September. I would feel more comfortable about my prediction if I knew who was going to be taking snaps but both guys look good. I think the neutral location of the ‘Cuse game is an advantage for us and I don’t think Michigan will beat us at home, at night, it’s a White Out...do I need to keep going?
Ohio State will be a challenge, but since I’m writing this from the porch of my house in Athens, Ohio, I think I’m actually obligated to say that we’ll beat OSU (my dad won’t like that I said that, did I just jinx the team? I really hope not. Please don’t kill me).
I think we can beat Wisconsin again but Nebraska will be tough. Obviously, all of my predictions are very scientific and not emotionally based at all. Our offense is stacked. I’m partial to Christian Hackenberg and Kyle Carter will catch anything thrown his way. Can we talk about how huge Garry Gilliam is for one minute? Are you a real person? I'm going to encourage everyone to look at the before and after picture he posted to Instagram last week. Who even knew someone could have limbs like that?
My sister just texted me and said she had to pause the car at a crosswalk while Miles Dieffenbach crossed the street in Crocs. I love that he’s wearing Crocs so I wanted to share that with you guys. If you haven’t watched the Training Days episode yet I don’t know why you’re reading this, but you really should watch it, if only for the reason that Dieffenbach is hilarious. I’m sure you can find it on YouTube if you didn’t splurge for DVR.
Okay so back to these “predictions,” if that’s what you would call this. I don’t think I have enough football jargon in this to qualify, but it’s Friday morning in Athens, and I’m really trying here. I’m going with 12-0, because I love the Nittany Lions and they’re perfect and they can never do anything wrong. And don’t tell me I took the easy way out. It’s hard to be this optimistic.
More from Black Shoe Diaries:
- Only Allen Robinson Until Penn State Football
- BSD Mailbag 8.23.13
- Women's Volleyball and the Best Conference in the Nation
- Penn State Quarterback Competition: O'Brien Still Mum On Starter
- Black Shoe Podcast - ESPN Training Days and Fourth and Long - Episode 2
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