The start of the 2019 Penn State football season is still another 89 days away, so all we can do for now is wait while we anticipate what is to come for the Nittany Lions. In anticipation of the upcoming season, we rank each game in terms of the excitement and importance surrounding each one. Let the countdown begin!:
12. Buffalo (Sept. 7) home
Buffalo was a respectable team in 2018, winning 10 games and losing the MAC Championship by just one point. However, the Bulls lost a ton of talent, including star quarterback Tyree Jackson and will be in rebuilding mode in 2019. This should be a game where Penn State is able to clear the benches as fans start to look forward to Pitt coming to town the following week. It’s still a game under the lights of Beaver Stadium, which every Nittany Lions faithful should experience at least once.
11. Idaho (Aug. 31) home
The only reason this isn’t sitting at #12 is that it’s the long-awaited kickoff for the 2019 season and we’ll finally be back together in Beaver Stadium (in-person or in spirit at least). The Vandals have moved down to FCS and will be without their best defensive player who will serve a one-game suspension and not make the trip. The biggest concern for Nittany Lions fans will be what to throw on the grill for the pre-game meal in time for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
10. Indiana (Nov. 16) home
The Hoosiers always seem to cause headaches for Penn State in Bloomington. However, it’s been very one-sided in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. Here’s hoping that pattern stays true, and the starters can get some extra rest ahead of the showdown against Ohio State the following week.
9. Rutgers (Nov. 30) home
Rutgers nearly knocked off Penn State in its first Big Ten season back in 2014. Since then, the Nittany Lions have outscored the Red Knights 122-16 in its past four contests. So much for that rivalry we kept hearing about way back when. Rutgers is still in heavy rebuilding mode, and still likely a few years away from being a bowl team. The only reason this game ranks ahead of Indiana is that it is on Senior Day, and possibly could help Penn State lock up a division title if the team exceeds expectations.
8. Maryland (Fri., Sept. 27) away
Can I admit something to you? I actually don’t hate the Friday night games. Sure, it’s still stupid in theory to play a Big Ten game on a Friday. However, a road game against a team that isn’t a highlight of the schedule works out well- spend a late night cheering for Penn State, and then enjoy a stress-free day of college football the following day. I’ll take it.
This game should, however, be more competitive than last year’s Friday night matchup at Illinois. Penn State caught Maryland at the perfect time last year immediately following the Terps utterly heartbreaking overtime loss to Ohio State that took all the gas out of its tank. Both teams will be coming off a bye week, and will not have to worry about preparing on a shortened week of practice.
7. Minnesota (Nov. 9) away
The last time Penn State squared off with Minnesota, this happened:
Now that that’s out of the way, this is the game that gave me the most difficulty to rank. An away game at Minnesota certainly doesn’t move the needle for Penn State fans as much as a game with a Michigan, Wisconsin or even Nebraska. However, the Gophers could be a surprise team of 2019 in the third year under notorious boat-rower P.J. Fleck. The Gophers started 0-4 in Big Ten play a year ago, but recovered to finish 4-2 in the final six games of the season. Those four wins included blowout victorious at the hands of Purdue, Wisconsin and Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl (they also suffered a 55-31 loss to Illinois in that span, so take that for what it’s worth). Minnesota has a soft schedule leading up to the Penn State game, and could be 7-1, or heck, even 8-0 if a few bounces go their way. If that happend, this now under-the-radar game could turn out to be a huge deal.
6. Pitt (Sept. 14) home
At one point I thought I wanted an annual Penn State-Pitt rivalry to be reborn...until I didn’t. This will be the last time the Nittany Lions and Panthers meet in the regular season for at least a decade, which is still meaningful for portions of the fan base. Personally, I’m ready to see good riddance and look forward to upcoming match-ups with Auburn, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. It seems fitting that this four-year renewal will go out with a whimper with a noon kickoff.
5. Purdue (Oct. 5) home
This could be a terrific game if Purdue is indeed a program on the rise. But are they? It’s hard to tell after a mystifying and uneven campaign in 2018. They beat three ranked opponents in B.C., Ohio State and Iowa (winning the first two in blowout fashion). They also lost to Eastern Michigan, went 1-3 in the last four games, and suffered an embarrassing 63-14 loss to Auburn in what was the most lopsided bowl game I’ve ever witnessed. Whatever the Boilermakers look like this season, it’s an October Big Ten game in Beaver Stadium, which is something to be excited about this time of year.
4. Iowa (Oct. 12) away
Penn State will head to Kinnick, in what seems destined to be a night game. Pray for us.
3. Michigan State (Oct. 26) away
The last two Penn State-Michigan State games have produced two of the most dreadfully frustrating losses in recent memory. Can the Nittany Lions actually show up in East Lansing and play to their potential? Even if the Spartans have one of the nation’s very best defenses again, it should be enough to top them. Either way, expect a tight one that goes down the wire.
2. Michigan (Oct. 19) home
IT’S THE WHITE OUT!! One of the best spectacles in college football returns for what could be a huge midseason tilt (Penn State has a good shot at entering the game 6-0, although Michigan will need to get past Army, Wisconsin and Iowa before heading to Happy Valley). This has been a surprisingly lopsided series as of late- Michigan crushed Penn State 49-10 in 2016 before the Nittany Lions found their footing on the way to a Big Ten crown. They returned the favor and thumped the Wolverines 42-13 during the ‘17 White Out game. Michigan then exacted revenge by stomping Penn State 42-7 last season. Hopefully the pattern holds true and the Nittany Lions walk away with a victory, while not bringing up the idiotic concept of a “Revenge Tour.”
1. Ohio State (Nov. 23) away
This is the obvious choice as Ohio State has been the clear class of the Big Ten, regularly winning conference championships and a strong playoff contender on an annual basis. While Ryan Day is extremely unproven for this type of gig, don’t expect things to change in Columbus any time soon. I’ll spare the details, but Penn State is coming off two absolutely soul-crushing losses to the Buckeyes where they gave up a late lead only to lose by a single point in each of the last two seasons. It’s a game that’s always circled on the Nittany Lions schedule- go ahead and add a few more circles considering the recent history of this rivalry and the implications that may come with this game being so late in the season.