Pat Chambers enters his ninth season as the Penn State Nittany Lions head coach, in what can be considered a make or break season. Having already played an exhibition game, and with the first game of the season on opening night (Tuesday, November 5th), the moment of truth is fast approaching these Nittany Lions.
We spent most of the past two weeks previewing the players, now it’s time to take a look at the bigger picture. Let’s start with this season’s schedule, shall we?
The Big Ten will remain one of the best conferences in the country for the foreseeable future, so that aspect of the schedule will always be tough. On the non-conference side, however, the Lions’ schedule offers great opportunities to position themselves on the right side of the bubble this season, with five Kenpom/Torvik top 100 opponents on the slate. That is two more than they played a season ago, which had three in the top 100. Let’s dive into some of the interesting pieces of the puzzle.
Toughest (and easiest) stretch
The scheduling gods did Penn State a great favor, as the the Nittany Lions will not have many stretches of games away from Bryce Jordan this season, as they did last. That said, the month of January is not going to be kind to these Nittany Lions, as they play Wisconsin (home), Minnesota (away), Ohio State (home), Michigan (away), Indiana (home), Nebraska (away), and Michigan State (away) from January 11th to February 4th. This stretch will undoubtedly tell what kind of team this Penn State squad will be.
On the other side of the coin, the Lions’ second half of the schedule includes two games against Northwestern, a home date with Rutgers (which, of late, seems to be the harder than playing them on the road, but I digress), and only two games against the projected top of the Big Ten (Purdue on the road on February 11th, and Michigan State at home on Senior Night). Any ground the Nittany Lions may have lost in the first half of the Big Ten season, they can easily regain in this stretch.
Biggest chance for an upset
Michigan State on senior night is going to be a trendy pick for an upset, but I’m a simple man who likes the simple things in life. Maryland has not beaten Penn State at Bryce Jordan since the 2014-15 season, one that saw a talented Terrapin squad escape with a three point win, on a controversial call late. Most recently, the Nittany Lions were seen shoving their figurative foot down the Terps throats at home, and I expect more of the same this season.
Trap game implications
Pat Chambers’ contract terms dictate that he must beat at least one team he has absolutely not business beating (my pick is Maryland), but he must lose at least one game he has no business losing. How about that Bucknell game on November 19th? The Bison have already beaten the Nittany Lions in the past, and they always get up to play this game whenever it is schedule. Look for that to be your trap game of the season.
Penn State has a world of opportunity in front of them this season. They can prove they’re for real this year in the second week of the season, when they visit Georgetown as part of the Gavitt Games. By thanksgiving time, the team would have played four of the five KP/BT top 100 teams in its non-conference schedule, and two more top 50 teams in Mayrland and Ohio State. Opportunity is knocking with this schedule, and they can set the tone for the rest of the season pretty early.