It's Homecoming in Happy Valley and Penn State takes on Northwestern in Beaver Stadium at noon on Saturday. Northwestern has continued their slide which started after a 4-0 start last year. Meanwhile, Penn State is 4-0 for the first time since 2008 and looking to add another win to their resumé before a tough stretch of games against Michigan, Ohio State, Maryland and Indiana.
Let's see how our staff sees this one shaking out:
Matt: The Wildcats have just 1 FBS win in the last calendar year, and have been a disaster, especially on offense, through 3 games this season. Meanwhile, PSU sits at 4-0, is off next week, then heads to Ann Arbor to face a struggling, at best, Michigan team. This has trap game written all over it. I expect another slow start for PSU this weekend, especially on offense where they will face a Northwestern defense that is better than most realize. On the other side, Pat Fitzgerald figures to pull out all the stops to right the ship.
Northwestern might take an early lead, but the talent gap, especially between PSU's defense, and the Cats' offense, and a big homecoming crowd, eventually takes over, and PSU grinds out a late win. I wouldn't be surprised to see a defensive score either.
Penn State 24-14
Galen: Northwestern always beats a team on their schedule that they have no business beating. Every. Freakin'. Year. Will Penn State be the 2014 version of this? I doubt it but I have my concerns. Hack's slow start combined with an early score or two by the Wildcats could cause a lot of problems. Penn State probably won't be able to have a lot of success on the ground but I believe Northwestern's secondary will eventually cave and PSU will find enough big plays to walk away with a win.
Penn State 21-17
bscaff: I know that Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers is, obviously, in the Big Ten conference, and thus, Penn State's conference schedule began two weeks ago. But this still 'feels' like the start of conference play, doesn't it? Here, finally, is an opponent that we 'know'. We know who Trevor Siemian is at QB. We know Ibrahim Campbell and Nick Van Hoose and Chi Chi Ariguzo on the Cats' defense, even though we haven't seen them play Penn State since 2012, when Northwestern finished 10-3 by stomping Dan Mullen's guts out, 34-20, in the Gator Bowl.
These Northwestern games have been wild in recent years. You have to go all the way back to 2009 to find a blow out - half a decade ago. And 15 of 22 offensive and defensive starters are 4th or 5th year players. Many of them played at Beaver Stadium in 2012. Some of them, actually, have almost as much experience playing at Beaver Stadium as do a few of the players PSU will put on the field. That'll happen when Dear Old State is the second youngest team in college football. So call me Nancy, but I'm nervous for this game.
Penn State 23-16
Tim A: This is not your slightly older friend's Northwestern team. The offense is struggling to find its playmakers after losing Kain Colter, Venric Mark, and Christian Jones to graduation, transfer, and injury, respectively. I mean, how can you expect them to light up this PSU defense when they couldn't even hit 300 total yards against Western Freakin' Illinois? Getting up on them by just 10 points would feel like a much more significant lead given their lack of offensive identity. Whether the PSU offense can move the ball and score enough to do so, remains to be seen. FWIW, I think PSU will build off the confidence they built from their balanced attack against UMass and roll to a (relatively) comfortable win on Homecoming wekeend. There will be no need for any fourth quarter discount double checks, this year.
Penn State 27-10
Chad: If UMass was the perfect appetizer for the meat of the B1G schedule, Northwestern is a crisp caeser salad. Penn State's defense is unlike anything the Wildcats have seen this year, and considering the struggles they've had scoring points against a weak non-conference schedule, Pat Fitzgerald might consider it a win just to get 10 on the board in Happy Valley. The run game takes a slight step back - as they should against a decent NW defense - but Hack shows why he's the best QB in the B1G with another 300-yard game.
Penn State 35-10
Old Nick: Northwestern started the season in disarray and haven't shown signs of getting it straightened out. Hack and the offense may again come out of the gate slowly as they continue to build any sort of consistent running attack, but the defense should keep Northwestern reined in on a beautiful Homecoming day.
Penn State 45-3
Middle Nick: Northewestern is a bad football team. Their offense without Venric Mark and Kain Colter is quite bland, and they simply haven't been executing. The defense has held its own, surprisingly, so it's not out of the questions that Northwestern hangs around in this one. However, with the confidence that the entire Penn State team should be boasting right now coming off of a 48-7 win, they should be able to take care of business. Hackenberg throws for 280 and a pair of scores, the running backs combine for 210 on the ground, Saeed Blacknall catches his first touchdown pass, and the Nittany Lions, at 5-0 with 2 conference wins, are ranked the #24 team in the country.
Penn State 38-6
Dan: This is the first game of the year that I won't be able to watch, so if we lose, you can blame me. However, I think that Penn State wins this game on the strength of its defense as has become the norm this season. I believe the experienced defense of Northwestern keeps them in the game for two-and-a-half quarters and gives Christian Hackenberg fits during that time until he turns on his God-mode switch and allows Penn State to pull away in the fourth. On the other side of the ball, the Penn State defense continues to be dominant as they force multiple turnovers against a depleted Wildcat (the team, not the awesome new scheme that Penn State employs) offense.
Penn State 31-10
FROM THE PODCAST:
Adam: Penn State 31-10
Bill: Penn State 28-13
Cari: Penn State 27-10
FROM THE PREVIEW:
Jared: Penn State 27-13