Preview: Penn State Nittany Lions vs Syracuse Orange

USA TODAY Sports

Football's back, y'all!

And it kicks off for the Nittany Lions in quasi-grand fashion, as they take on historical rival Syracuse in a neutral site (the Lions are the designated away team, and should wear white) where two pro teams call home.

Penn State (0-0) vs Syracuse (0-0)

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. New Meadowlands Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

The Line: PSU -9

TV: ABC/ESPN Mike Patrick (p-by-p), Ed Cunningham (analyst), Tom Rinaldi and Jeannine Edwards(sideline)

Weather: 85 degrees, partly sunny with a chance of thunderstorms halfway through the game (via State College's own Accuweather!).

COACHES:

Bill O'Brien:

PENN STATE RECORD: 8-4, 2nd year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. SYRACUSE: First Meeting

Scott Shafer:

SYRACUSE RECORD: 0-0. 1st year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: First Meeting

...NOW THE FUN PART

SYRACUSE OFFENSE VS PSU DEFENSE

Both teams come in with very big question marks at the quarterback spot, though most recent reports have Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen starting tomorrow, with Terrel Hunt seeing significant time as well; both will be vying to replace current League QB Ryan Nassib (brother of Nittany Lion Carl). Many have likened Allen as the more traditional drop back passer and Hunt as a more mobile QB, but Allen isn't as stoic as we'd like to see. Either way, our front seven (and particularly the thin linebacking corps) will be on their toes as they adjust to full hitting (as opposed to "thud" in practice) and containing a very, very strong running back corps.

If, as we'd like to see, the Cuse run game gets shut down and they have to take to the air, a relatively inexperienced but very talented secondary should be able to hold their own against an average receiver group. Penetrating the pocket and going after the quarterback will also be important, and Deion Barnes should be our go-to guy for this role--and look for lots of different blitzing looks from the front seven under new DC John Butler.

SYRACUSE DEFENSE VS PSU OFFENSE

This matchup is much more interesting to me, because Shafer was the defensive coordinator of the Orange under the departed Greg Marrone. As bscaff laid out earlier in the week, Shafer loves to blitz and show different looks, and it will be very interesting to see how O'Brien responds to that. We've been talking up this offensive line, and this should be a decent early test on how they can protect their quarterback and open up lanes for Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton. Whoever starts at QB for the Nittany Lions, Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson, has a ton of experience around him and O'Brien will likely try to exploit the favorable matchups generated by his deep stock of tight ends.

Going hurry up (or "Nascar") may be key for Penn State early to help neutralize Shafer's switching of fronts on defense, but if the Nittany Lions can pound the rock and let ZZ get 3-4 yards up the middle every play, this matchup would be in the favor of Penn State.

SPECIAL TEAMS

I really, really hope it doesn't come down to punting, but if it does...well, I joke a lot, but that would suck. It will be very interesting to see the potential improvement of Alex Butterworth on that front, and BOB seems confident in his special teams (with a lot of run-ons seeing significant time in kicking situations).

The big question is Sam Ficken--he ended the 2012 season strong, but was underwhelming at the blue-white game with a different holder (safety Ryan Keiser is his traditional holder for XPs and FGs). Will he build on the momentum in the Wisconsin game, or start anew? We may find out tomorrow.

Even if there's no improvement, Penn State could end up easily winning the special teams battle, as this was reportedly a weakness of the Orange in 2012--and this year, there's no go-to special teams coach (last year, that job went to Marrone), as Shafer has spread the responsibilities around the entire coaching staff. Hey, what's that like?

PREDICTION

...you've likely seen (or heard) my prediction in many other places, but here I'm going with

PENN STATE 24, SYRACUSE 17

I think we'll score just enough to win, and they won't be able to get past our front seven for more than 17 points.I think we'll come out strong, much like last year vs Ohio and per BOB's mantra of starting fast. But I fear we'll wear down a bit and let the Orange back in the game for a quarter (or two) before sealing the deal in the fourth quarter.


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