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Way-Too-Early Look: Penn State Football’s 2017 Schedule

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The Penn State football season is still 191 days away, but let’s take an early look at what’s on the docket for the Nittany Lions in 2017.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Sept. 2: Akron

Penn State will start off the season like they did in 2015 — with some #MACtion. Terry Bowden’s squad went 5-7 this past season, and it’s not looking like the Zips will be dramatically improved in 2017. This should be an easy victory for the Nittany Lions.

Sept. 9: Pitt

In what may be the most anticipated out-of-conference game in Happy Valley since Alabama in 2011, Pitt will make the trek to Beaver Stadium. While most Penn State fans believe that this will be a blowout, let’s take a non-biased look at the 2017 Panthers.

Pitt is losing a lot of very good players — QB Nathan Peterman, RB James Conner, TE Scott Orndoff, LT Adam Bisnowaty, LG Dorian Johnson, DE Elijah Price, and LB Matt Galambos — so it’s a bit of a rebuilding year in Oakland. That being said, the Panthers do have some solid pieces, especially offensively. They have a pretty good stable of running backs, Quadree Henderson remains a weapon, and the offensive line should still be one of the better units in the ACC. Toss in that transfer Max Browne (or whoever wins the QB competition) won’t be asked to do a lot, and it’s fair to say that Pitt’s offense should still be pretty solid.

Defensively, it’s a different story. Pitt will be replacing Price and his 13 sacks at defensive end, both of its defensive tackles, Galambos and Mike Capara at linebacker, and that secondary — which loses its starting free safety and top cornerback — will still be a major problem for the Panthers. Hard to see this unit not struggling mightily, especially early in the season.

So will Pitt take a step back in 2017? Yeah, probably. But this is still most likely a seven-win-ish bowl team.

So do we still think Penn State will blowout Pitt? Yes. Yes we do.

Penn State 58, Pitt 20. Let me drink Narduzzi’s tears.

Sept. 16: Georgia State

Georgia State has graciously hosted Penn State for a couple satellite camps during James Franklin’s tenure, and this is how the Nittany Lions are paying the Panthers back. Georgia State won’t be led by Trent Miles, but instead will be led by new head coach Shawn Elliot. Like Akron, this should be a comfortable victory for Penn State.

Sept. 23: at Iowa

Outside of Ohio State and Michigan, this game is the one that probably worries me (and most folks) the greatest. Iowa is going to have a pretty good team next season, as it returns Akrum Wadley at running back, its entire offensive line, and a good group on defense. Toss in the possibility that this could be a Big Ten Network night game at Kinnick, and the bed wetting has begun.

Fortunately, Iowa’s knack for upsets has been against teams that play similarly to them — i.e. Penn State ‘08 and Michigan ‘16. Under James Franklin and Joe Moorhead, the Nittany Lions are no longer that type of team, so hopefully the 2017 game will be reminiscent of the 2016 game.

Sept. 30: Indiana

Even though the Hoosiers will be without Kevin Wilson for the first time since Bolden vs. McGloin debates ruled the BSD comment section, Indiana is set to have a pretty good football team in Tom Allen’s first season. The Hoosiers will be returning 17 starters in 2017, so eight-ish wins is certainly possible for the fine folks in Bloomington.

I don’t think that one of those eight wins will be against Penn State. If this game wasn’t in Beaver Stadium, okay, maybe I could see it. But it’s hard to get too worried about a game where the Nittany Lions will be the hosts.

Oct. 7: at Northwestern

Going back to his Vanderbilt days, James Franklin is 0-3 against Pat Fitzgerald. So right off the bat, there’s some concern. Throw in that the Wildcats have one of the better quarterback-running back duos in the country in Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson, and Northwestern should be its normal pesky self. This game could also end up being the dreaded, 11 a.m. local kick, which sucks for everyone involved (mostly me because I have to wake up before 11 a.m. on a weekend).

So like the Iowa and Indiana games, this certainly won’t be a cakewalk. That three-game stretch isn’t murderers’ row, but still, it’s three games that Penn State could conceivably lose. The road to 6-0 heading into the Michigan game won’t be as easy as many think.

Oct. 14: Bye

A Saturday in the Fall without Penn State football is like a day without sunshine, folks.

Oct. 21: Michigan

The 2017 Whiteout Game and possibly a weekend that brings ESPN’s College Gameday back to Happy Valley for the first time since 2009, the Nittany Lions are set to host the third best team in the Big Ten East — the Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan loses a lot, both offensively and defensively. According to who you talk to, the Wolverines are only returning (about) five starters, so it’s essentially going to be a whole different team than the one we saw in 2016. Still, Michigan doesn’t lack talent, and even though they weren’t starters, a number of the backups saw a decent amount of time last season — RB Chris Evans, DT Maurice Hurst, DL Rashan Gary, DE Chase Winovich, etc.

Is Michigan a title contender in 2017? Probably not. The Wolverines are more than likely going to take a step back, but even with all the experience they are losing, this should still be a Top 20-level football team. Jim Harbaugh is one of the best football coaches on the planet, and with him at the helm, it should all but ensure Michigan gets to at least 8 wins.

This is going to be a tough game, and like I said before, probably a fairly hyped game. If Michigan can get past Florida to open up the season, it has Cincinnati, Air Force, Purdue, Michigan State, and Indiana to follow, so the Wolverines being 6-0 walking into Beaver Stadium is a solid possibility.

Oct. 28: at Ohio State

Ohio State is clearly a top 10 team, and a team that is going to contend for a playoff spot once again in 2017. But the Buckeyes aren’t without questions, especially on the offensive side of the ball. After looking anemic offensively in 2016, out is offensive coordinator Tim Beck and in comes former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson to run the offense. That in itself is a major upgrade for the Buckeyes, but Wilson will be tasked to rebuild this offense without Ohio State’s two best offensive weapons — h-back Curtis Samuel and wide receiver Noah Brown — who both decided to enter the NFL Draft. Fortunately for Wilson, the offensive line should be improved, as the Buckeyes will return four starters on a young offensive front.

Defensively, Ohio State will have to replace three very good starters in the secondary — safety Malik Hooker, cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore, and Gareon Conley. But Ohio State’s front seven might be the best in the nation, and quite honestly, should be able to carry what will be an inexperienced secondary.

So all in all, Ohio State should be better in 2017. The defense might be the best in the nation, and while I think the loss of Samuel will hurt more than most think, the offense should still be good enough under Kevin Wilson. Toss in that Ohio State gets a bye the week before Penn State comes to town, and this undoubtedly becomes the Nittany Lions toughest game next season.

Nov. 4: at Michigan State

As if this Spartans team wasn’t already enough of a wildcard, it’s now going through turmoil with some unnamed players in an alleged sexual assault case. So if Michigan State’s surprising 3-9 season wasn’t confusing enough, there’s also the possibility of the Spartans being down an additional three starters.

With that being said, trying to figure out what type of team Michigan State fields in 2017 is a tough task. We know Mark Dantonio is a good coach, and contrary to popular belief, the Spartans have actually recruited at a solid level the past couple years; there’s talent in East Lansing. But there’s a reason Michigan State stumbled to 3-9 in 2016, and that has to be taken into account heading into next season.

This is a troubling game just because of the unknown. But until the Spartans prove that they aren’t a flaming piece of hot garbage, there’s no reason the Nittany Lions shouldn’t be big favorites in this game.

Nov. 11: Rutgers

2014 — Penn State 13, Rutgers 10

2015 — Penn State 28, Rutgers 3

2016 — Penn State 39, Rutgers 0

There’s a trend here, folks.

Nov. 18: Nebraska

After not quite living up to the hype in 2016, the Cornhuskers figure to be an interesting team in 2017. They lose quite a few notable players — QB Tommie Armstrong, RB Terrell Newby, WR Jordan Westerkamp, DT Kevin Maurice, and LB Josh Banderas — so Mike Riley has his work cut out for him.

The Cornhuskers should be in the mix in the Big Ten West, behind Wisconsin but in the same grouping with Iowa, Minnesota, and Northwestern. Much of Nebraska’s success will probably depend upon the quarterback, whether it’s Tulane transfer Tanner Lee or highly-touted redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien.

All in all, Nebraska should be an okay team. But with this game taking place within the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium, it doesn’t look too concerning right now..

Nov. 25: at Maryland

Last but certainly not least (Rutgers is least), Penn State will finally play Maryland in College Park. Unfortunately for the Terps, D.J. Durkin’s second-year could figure to be a step back from last season. Maryland still doesn’t have a quarterback, and Durkin’s talented recruiting classes are probably still a little too young to make much of an impact. Tricky road game to finish the year, but Penn State shouldn’t have too many problems with Maryland in 2017.

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Onto the Big Ten Championship? We’ll see.