With just 58 days until the start of the 2017 Penn State Football season, it’s officially time to get excited for what could be a very special year for the Nittany Lions. This season contains several notable games, and one of the most highly anticipated seasons in some time should make for an incredibly memorable fall. Without any further ado, we rank each game on the 2017 regular season schedule:
12. Georgia State (Sept. 16)
A completely unfamiliar foe from the Sun Belt Conference, sandwiched between marquee games against Pitt and Iowa. The Panthers are still new to FBS and are coming off a 3-9 record, meaning this game should be over by halftime if the Nittany Lions come in focused and ready to take care of business. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and we’ll get one of those brilliant cloudless blue sky and sunshine September afternoons in State College for the afternoon tailgating, followed by some football under the lights of Beaver Stadium.
11. Akron (Sept. 2)
The Zips return plenty of experience and have become a respectable MAC program under Terry Bowden. If Penn State were still under sanctions, this might be one of those games that seem much more dangerous than they appear (see Ohio, 2012). But there’s little chance Akron is able to hang around for long against Penn State’s high-powered offense. The best thing about this game is that it ushers in the much-anticipated new season of Penn State Football, as we’ll all be ecstatic to see the boys in blue and white take the field regardless of the opponent.
10. Rutgers (Nov. 11)
Rutgers clearly has a long ways to go before becoming a competitive team in the Big Ten, which was made evident by the fact that they were shutout four times in 2016. Seriously, a third of the season’s games that resulted in zero points. Even if the Scarlet Knights treat this game as its Super Bowl, like they did in 2014, it’s hard to imagine they will be ready to make it much of a contest in Happy Valley this season.
9. Indiana (Sept. 30)
Indiana has given Penn State difficulties at times in the past, but the Hoosiers will likely be in rebuilding mode after losing several key players as they break in a new head coach. I don’t expect this to be close, but the Hoosiers may continue its tradition of playing to the level of its opponent and make it much closer than expected.
8. Maryland (Nov. 25)
This game gets bumped up one slot because it’s the final game of the regular season, meaning a victory could potentially clinch a division title for the Nittany Lions. Other than that, it will make us actually long for the days when Michigan State was the final game of the season, as Penn State’s anointed “rival” by the Big Ten.
7. Northwestern (Oct. 7)
This is where things get a bit tricky because the next four games or so can reasonably be placed in any order. A noon game (11 a.m. local time) at Ryan Field bumps this down a couple slots, as the atmosphere will be lethargic, and Penn State’s performance might be the same. The Wildcats have been victorious in the teams’ last two meetings, and James Franklin will be seeking his first victory against Northwestern as he is 0-2 at Penn State, as well as 0-2 with Vanderbilt.
6. Michigan State (Nov. 4)
If Michigan State bounces back, this could be a huge game- it’s the first weekend of November and Penn State will be coming off the most grueling portion of the schedule following back-to-back contests against Michigan and at Ohio State. Say what you will about Mark Dantonio, but he has proven to be one of the nation’s best coaches and it won’t be long until the Spartans are back among the nation’s best. Plus, he can be quite vindictive (cough, cough, consecutive timeouts against in the closing seconds of the 2008 game, cough cough) and will be seeking some payback following Penn State’s second half throttling of the Spartans to end their 2016 season.
5. Iowa (Sept. 23)
Let’s all say this together now- weird things happen in Kinnick at night. While the kickoff time has yet to be announced, it seems destined to be an early-season clash under the lights. Barring anything unforeseen in the first three weeks of the season, Penn State will be a strong favorite heading into this game. But the Hawkeyes return plenty of talent after playing their best football toward the end of the 2016 season.
4. Nebraska (Nov. 18)
This game is boosted for being a late November contest in Beaver Stadium. Does it get much better than two teams in their classic uniforms battling it out (potentially) in the cold and snow? This game could have major implications as it is the penultimate week of the regular season, and the ‘Huskers may be ready to take another step in the right direction under Mike Riley following a 9-4 season. Penn State is 0-3 against Nebraska since both entered the Big Ten, and this may be their best opportunity to right the ship.
3. Pitt (Sept. 9)
A season ago, Penn State came oh-so-close to a dramatic comeback victory in the team’s first matchup in 16 years. The Nittany Lions were hindered by a collection of injuries on defense, as well as an offense that hadn’t quite yet come together. This year there are no excuses. The Beaver Stadium crowd will be raring to go for this week two clash, as the atmosphere will be electric well before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff time. This will be the first time the Panthers visit Happy Valley since 1999, when Lavar Arrington was punishing the poor Panthers punter in a 20-17 victory for the good guys.
2. Michigan (Oct. 21)
Penn State recently opened up as a 14-point favorite, but this should be far from an easy victory. Yes, Michigan has the fewest amount of returning starters in the nation with five (four on offense and just one on defense). They also have a collection of talent waiting in the wings. While Jim Harbaugh’s behavior may regularly raise eyebrows, he knows how to win. It’s always a big-time game anytime Michigan rolls into Happy Valley, and this season will be no different.
1. Ohio State (Oct. 28)
The unquestioned biggest game on the Nittany Lions upcoming schedule is once again the Ohio State Buckeyes. Whether or not you want to call it a rivalry, this is one game both fanbases will be circling on their calendars, and should play out in front of a large national audience. Not only could this game once again settle Big Ten supremacy, it could also have a major impact on the playoff picture. Both teams return serious talent on both sides of the ball and will enter the season in or near the top five in any ranking you will find. Buckle your chinstraps for this one folks, as we’ll be in for a three-and-a-half hours of incredible football in the Horseshoe.