With a new offense and quarterback behind center, many of the BSD staff are expecting Penn State to show major progress in 2016. To the Roundtable!
I'm thinking Penn State will start 3-1, with the possibility of 2-2 (Pitt) looming. Losses to Michigan, Ohio State, and MSU leave Penn State at 9-3. Despite the obvious skill on the edge (wideout, running back, and defensive back), there are too many questions on both the offensive and defensive lines to warrant a finish better than 9-3.
Barkley and company should have enough firepower to get past Kent State. Pitt is a very tough matchup, but if Kevin Givens, Garrett Sickels, and the rest of the defensive line can stop James Conner and the Panthers, the Nittany Lions should be 2-0. Temple, a rare revenge game, should be a shellacking given the lack of Tyler Matakevich and give Penn State a 3-0 beginning. Michigan won't be an easy matchup and will drop Penn State to 3-1. Minnesota and Maryland should be improved, but there should be enough firepower to give the Nittany Lions a 5-1 record heading into the bye and then OSU. No matter what, Ohio State won't concede, and Penn State won't be able to stop J.T. Barrett. Wins against Purdue (who will be playing for Darrell Hazell's job) and Iowa will leave Penn State at 7-2 before the last three matchups. Iowa under the lights of Beaver Stadium will be a sight to behold, and Penn State will feed off the energy of the crowd to topple the Big Ten West title contenders. The last trip to Rutgers was only a victory due to the poor throws by Gary Nova and featured a lackluster and turnover-prone Nittany Lion offense. I think this game is much closer than it should be, and in fact, I really wrestled with going with a Rutgers upset (see below). With that said, Penn State's speed on offense is the difference in this night game, and Penn State goes to 8-2. After a win over Indiana, the Spartans will ruin Senior Day and end Penn State's regular season at 9-3.
Full disclosure: I first had the Rutgers game as a loss because of the night atmosphere, the way Penn State played the last time they were there, and Chris Ash. However, after thinking about it, Penn State's offense is much improved from both the last time they visited Piscataway and last year. That combined with Rutgers' lack of defensive stalwarts (remember, they allowed almost 35 points per game last year) gives the Nittany Lions the edge.
Chris L.: 9-3
Penn State starts the season with a blowout win over the Golden Flashes (1-0), a close win on the road at Pitt (2-0), a blowout win against Temple (3-0), and a close loss in the Big House (3-1). Another close loss against Minnesota at home (3-2) and people are calling for Franklin's head. Luckily the very next week all of the ducks finally get in a row for the team's first complete game against Maryland (4-2).
After the bye week, OSU comes to the Beav, and despite a valiant effort on both sides of the ball, Meyer and company get the job done AGAIN against Franklin (4-3). Next comes a blowout win over Purdue (5-3), and a close win over a ranked Iowa squad at home (6-3), and Penn State makes an appearance in the rankings. A shootout win against Indiana (7-3), and another blowout win over BTPR (8-3) leaves us with one game to go against Sparty. By then, the OSU/UM game will determine the B1G East champ, so PSU and MSU are playing for third in the division. On a cold, wintry November day, not unlike one from 2008, Penn State demolishes the Spartans, 49-18 to finish the season 9-3.
Bonus round! Penn State earns a berth in the Holiday Bowl and plays Stanford. This year's runner up for Heisman Christian McCaffrey gets upstaged by next year's Heisman winner Saquon Barkley, and Penn State finishes the season 10-3 with a No. 15 overall ranking.
Bill Connelly, who's way smarter than the rest of us, set the win projection at 7.5. That's about where I fall, but with a bit more optimism, projecting Penn State to go 9-3 in the 2016 season. I think Joe Moorhead's offense gets rolling early and often in a Week 1 rout of a pretty putrid Kent State team. The momentum rolls over to Week 2 when the Nittany Lions outscore Pitt 27-23. Riding high, Penn State then takes some revenge against a Temple team that should take a small step back this year before falling for the first time to Michigan in Ann Arbor. Penn State gets back on the horse with back-to-back dubs over Mini Soda and the Terps before taking OSU to the brink on October 22 and losing a tight one. A rollover victory against Purdue sends the Lions into a huge game against Iowa where they get their signature win for the season, blowing out the Hawkeyes in front of a packed night-game crowd at Beaver Stadium. PSU then heads to Bloomington and boat-races a typical Kevin Wilson defense, hanging 40-plus on the Hoosiers before going to Piscataway and doing the same to Rutgers. The regular season ends on the down note as Sparty is able to control the clock and let the air out of the ball to win a tight, 24-20 game and keep that glorious Land Grant Trophy.
Honestly, I'm not convinced Saquon Barkley and company will be that outstanding this year, but as I run down the schedule, I am convinced that the Big Ten is really, really light. It wouldn't shock me if Penn State got to nine or 10 wins this year without being a particularly good football team.
Like many of you, I don't know what the 2016 has in store for Penn State and its fans. I like to think that the offense is certain to improve under new leadership at quarterback and offensive coordinator and that one or two guys on the defensive line will step up and make the unit formidable again. If those two things happen, I'm confident that the Lions can defeat Kent State, Temple, Maryland, Purdue, Indiana, and Rutgers. That's six wins right there, none of which seem like too much of a stretch right now. On the other hand, even if Penn State shows great improvement this year, it's still going to be a tough sell to convince your friends that the Lions can beat Ohio State and Michigan.
That leaves four "toss-up" games that seem to be the dividing line between fans like me who think the program can win nine or more games this year and those who are less optimistic. Those games are against Pitt, Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan State. With three coming at home and the other still in Pennsylvania, I don't think it's crazy to ask Penn State to take three of four and get to nine wins. Then again, I'm pretty optimistic about how the more experienced offensive line and new quarterback will shape the offense.
Chris T.: 9-3
My assessment is based on the assumption that Penn State will make a noticeable improvement on the field of play this season. The defense will be led by a strong, play-making, turnover-inducing secondary. Veteran linebackers will fill the void left by the departure of three NFL-quality defensive lineman. The team will feature some very young but talented players on both lines and at quarterback. While the youth will come with a learning curve, the overall skill on the field will elevate the team to a level it has not seen in recent years. The much-improved overall talent level will allow the Lions to win nine games. Looking at the schedule, it's hard to predict each individual game. There are groups of games, such as Indiana-Purdue-Maryland-Rutgers-Kent State where the team can't afford to lose; it would be a devastating setback. There is a group of games, Ohio State-Michigan-Michigan State-Iowa that the team could make up for a disappointing loss with a combined 3-1 record against this bunch. Pitt-Temple-Minnesota is a group of games that the team, in my view, has the talent advantage but the outcome could go either way.
I think the team will enter the Michigan game with a 3-0 record. Following a bitter loss to Harbaugh and company, the Lions will regroup to enter the Ohio State game with a very respectable, national-attention-getting, vote-gathering record of 5-1. Following a loss to the Buckeyes that won't wear off for a while, the team will regroup to enter the Michigan State game with a 9-2 record. The Lions will be mathematically alive on the last day of the regular season to grab the Big Ten East spot in the Big Ten title game. Unfortunately, Penn State will lose to Sparty. The winner of the Michigan versus Ohio State game on the same day will ultimately play in the Big Ten Championship Game and go on to win the national championship. Yuck.
But the Lions will finish the regular season with a 9-3 record, having won some close games to similarly-talented teams. It will avoid a disappointing upset at the hands of its two farm-league recruiting affiliates Maryland and Rutgers as well as the two other teams from Pennsylvania. The expectations will be lifted to such a high level during the season that some will be disappointed with the 9-3 finish. That will be a sign that the program is indeed improving and is poised for contention at the national level in the coming years.
When I look at Penn State's schedule, I'm not exactly sure what to make of it. In my opinion, there are no elite teams on the schedule. But at the same time, there are only a few gimme wins for the Nittany Lions, which makes this season tough to predict.
Let's start with the probable losses: Michigan and Ohio State. And let's also chalk up the gimme wins: Kent State, Purdue, and Rutgers. There's 3-2. Then you have teams Penn State should be favored in, but it wouldn't be all that surprising to see an upset: Temple, Minnesota, Maryland, and Indiana. Although I'm usually an optimist, let's say the Nittany Lions lose one game they shouldn't, putting them at 6-3. And finally, there's the toss-up games: Pitt, Iowa, and Michigan State. For me at least, those are the three games that will make or break Penn State's season. If it can go 2-1 against that trio, I'd be pretty happy with this season.
So what am I predicting? I see the Nittany Lions going 8-4 with losses to Pitt (*slams head*), Michigan, Ohio State, and Indiana as a trap game of sorts. Although 8-4 is only a one-game improvement from last season, I think we see a much better on-field product, and a Penn State team that will be much more respected nationally.
How did I become the pessimistic one of the bunch? I would absolutely love to say that Penn State is looking to regain form and predict double-digit wins this season now that they're back to a full allotment of scholarship players, but there are just too many question marks to predict a standout season. First off, Penn State will once again be relying on far too many inexperienced players who are unknown commodities. With 46 scholarship players on the team being either true or redshirt freshmen, there's just no way of getting around it. The lack of experience is also heavily isolated at key positions -- both sides of the line and quarterback. While it's a relief to have more depth and talent in the pipeline (as well as a new offensive philosophy) that will help bolster a glaring weakness, I can't help but remember the uneasy feeling I had heading into 2014 when it seemed as though Penn State was relying on too many young offensive linemen to be able to compete against any team with a strong front seven. The defensive line is the same concern as well. While it's completely possible that Sean Spencer has all of the new faces primed to play beyond their lines, there's a very real possibility the defensive line will get pushed around by opposing senior-laden offensive lines, causing major issues for the back seven and making it difficult to get off the field on third downs.
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for 2016: an incredible stable of backs and receivers, a strong trio of starting linebackers, and a new-look offense that should be light years ahead of anything we've seen thus far in the Franklin era. But based on what we know heading into the season, I'd need to see major improvement during the first quarter of the season before I start buying into the undeniable potential on this team.
Did James Franklin just get his learner's permit? Because this team is going 10-2.
Is this the most likely result? No, but it's not out of the question. Going through the schedule the four toughest games that I see are at Pitt, at Michigan, OSU, and MSU. Iowa has played spoiler in the past, but I think Minnesota and Indiana are more likely to surprise Penn State this year. If something goes terribly wrong, these are all possible losses. However, it's preseason, the team is healthy, and there's just over a week remaining to be optimistic before the pessimism of the regular season takes hold.
The game against Pitt will give us an early idea for what our expectations should be this year. I think Penn State will be able to capitalize on superior skill position players and pull out a win that will be closer than I would like. That will set up a home game against Temple, where the team will need to work out any remaining kinks so that they will be in top form against Michigan. I expect Michigan to be 3-0 and highly ranked, but relatively untested going into their matchup versus Penn State. It will be an ugly game, but Penn State will pull out a close win late.
If they avoid a letdown against Minnesota, the Nittany Lions will be 6-0 going into the game against OSU (sorry Maryland). It's tempting to go all-in and predict a win in this game as well, but I don't think this team has enough experience to play consistently enough to reach 7-0. Once again, a mobile quarterback will prove to be just too much for the defense to handle.
After a win on the road against Purdue, Penn State will have another primetime opportunity against a ranked opponent when they take on Iowa at home. This time, the team delivers an impressive win and the offense seems to reach its peak form. Hitting the road the next week against Indiana, the team will frustrate fans with an uninspired performance that raises new questions. This year however, Penn State should have the better punter, and winning the field position battle proves to be the key to winning the game.
A confidence-builder against Rutgers sets up a game against MSU with the B1G East title on the line (Michigan also will have only one conference loss). The Spartans' quarterback questions are answered by then, and they deliver a huge upset over the Nittany Lions with weather and/or injuries playing a factor. With a finish of 10-2, the brief pain of the MSU loss will be overshadowed by the overall success of the season. People start projecting huge results for the 2017 season, and apologize for criticizing my preseason predictions.
It won’t be the greatest season, but it won’t be abysmal. With two good, yet young quarterbacks, solid linebackers, Saquon Barkley and potentially an improved offensive line, I feel Penn State can have a 9-3 or 8-4 season.
I’m nervous that it was the last week in the training camp before they got the offensive line set. I’m nervous about two new quarterbacks, although they’ve both got talent. I’m nervous about the team learning all new offensive plays. I’m nervous about a lot of things regarding the offense.
They’ll roll over poor Kent State. But Pitt will give the Nittany Lions more hassle than we expect, in more ways than one. That said, they’ll beat Pitt but it will be closer than expected. Coming off a Pitt win, the team will win the grudge match against Temple and have great momentum going into their first big test, Michigan.
I have doubts that our offensive line will be able to compete with what our better opponents can bring to the table, and I’m not confident our untested quarterbacks will have the protection or experience they need to get the job done. Barkley will still run up scores and impress, but it won't be enough for those tougher games (Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State), and I’m predicting losses to the big three.
Nice wins over Minnesota and Maryland will get the team’s confidence up, but it won’t be enough to overcome OSU. The team will win at Purdue, and then there’s a close matchup with Iowa. Since it’s a home game and late in the season, they’ve got an advantage as long as they stay healthy, so I’m hoping for a win over the Hawkeyes. Indiana and Rutgers will be gimmes, with Michigan State being the final end-of-season loss.
I think Penn State wins one of the three against Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State and loses either to Iowa, Minnesota or Pitt, but not to all three (and Iowa's the best guess, IMO). I just think the talent is there in Year One under the new coordinators, and it's too early for Pat Narduzzi to figure out what Moorhead's going to do on offense. I doubt we'll see too much dropoff on defense -- the secondary will be a point of immense strength, as will the starting linebackers -- and Sean Spencer has already shown a remarkable ability to reload instead of rebuild. I think this year will surprise some people.
And as for the Penn State offense, well, hello Joe Moorhead! Saquon will get his, and we'll introduce the world to Miles Sanders. It won't really matter who's in at quarterback (I still think it'll be Trace) because there's so much talent around him, they'll get the job done. The line will be improved, and what deficiencies they have, Moorhead is enough of a Xs and Os guy that he'll be able to mask them.
I don't think the team is quite experienced enough to play with the big dogs, but I think Penn State'll get them scared this year. No game will be easy for our opponents. It should be a fun year.
I have pored over this schedule for what seems like an eternity at this point, but I feel it's best to split it into the following four categories:
[Lumberg from 'Office Space' voice] Yeah, I'm Going To Need You Guys To Not Lose These Games, Okay?
Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers
Could Be Pesky, But Still Ought To Be Wins (Please, For The Love Of The Sports Gods)
I'll Believe It When I See It
Gun to my head, I say that Penn State beats all of the opponents from the first two categories, and splits the two opponents listed in the Toss-Up category. I'm going to say Iowa is the team they beat out of that category, although I will say that Pitt is most certainly winnable, despite the fact it will be the first true road start for Trace McSorley (all jokes about yellow seats and how PSU fans inflated Pitt's record season ticket sales, aside) and the fact that Pitt will bring a solid rushing attack to a D-line that certainly has potential, but is lacking critical game experience. I just like the fact that Iowa is a November night game at the Beav, and PSU's offense should (hopefully) be running in sync and on all cylinders by that point.
While I'm not picking any wins out of the I'll Believe It When I See It category, if PSU is going to steal a game from one of those opponents, the most likely would be from Sparty at season's end. At the very least, I feel confident that the offense will be up to the task of scoring enough to keep Sparty on their toes.
All in all, this leaves PSU finishing the regular season at 8-4, which would be an improvement upon the previous two seasons record-wise, and also gives the team a chance to finish with their first 9-win season since 2011 should they also win their bowl game.
Eli: 2 ≤ wins ≤ 11
Every year I've closely followed this team, I've had at least some sort of idea of what to expect before the season. Some years (read: last year) I lied to myself and predicted something well above what they could do, and others I was more conservative and picked below expectations. This year, however, I truly have no idea what's going to happen. Too many changes are happening all at the same time for me to even begin to create a whole from all the pieces.
While my prediction, or lack thereof, is a copout, I can still see scenarios where Penn State finishes at each extreme. Penn State plays a close game against Kent State, then goes out and gets demolished against a Pitt team that has been waiting for years to settle it on the field. A loss to Temple a week later completely deflates the team, and the Nittany Lions don't win again until they meet Purdue. Having lost both the players and the fans, Sandy Barbour has no choice but to let Franklin go after Penn State's worst season in school history.
On the other extreme, hiring a full time special teams coach (who was a former coordinator), hiring a capable OL coach (who was overwhelmed at his previous stop, having both coordinator and OL duties), promoting the guy everyone wanted to defensive coordinator, and hiring an offensive coordinator who truly aligns with what the head coach wants to do, actually ends up working out for the better, and suddenly all the talent Penn State has available is used properly. This translates into a team that, after being an afterthought all offseason, goes out and surprises everyone by being unstoppable on offense but still relentless on defense. They go out and easily dispatch of Kent State, even with a limited playbook, destroy Pitt in a game that's over from kickoff, takes revenge on Temple, and loses all but one game the rest of the way. Even though the game is close, they are unable to beat Michigan. No one else can stop the powerful offense, however.
Oh, and the beat someone 56-17 and I'll go on a week-long bender.