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MMQB - Way-Too-Early Look at Penn State’s Schedule

What could we expect in the fall?

Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/TNS via Getty Images

Due to COVID, the 2020 football schedule got pretty messed up. It’s therefore been said that the 2021 schedule for the Big Ten will be rearranged, to make up for home-and-away series. Will this end up changing the actual crossover opponents? Time will tell, but for now let’s assume that won’t be the case, and take a way-too-early look at Penn State’s schedule in the fall of 2021.

Week 1 (Sep. 4) - at Wisconsin (2020 Record: 4-3)

Let me just say, I really like the idea of starting with a Big Ten game. Usually the first week of the season is a bit full of creampuffs, and a game like this increases national exposure.

That being said, starting the season at Camp Randall seems sub-optimal. Wisconsin wasn’t their regular dominating self in 2020, partly due to the fact that they couldn’t run the ball very well. But as always, the Badgers figure to be a tough out, and with a new offense, Penn State could expect some lumps and bumps.

Chance of Victory: 55%

Week 2 (Sep. 11) - vs Ball State (2020 Record: 7-1 (MAC Champions))

Ball State had one of their better seasons in 2020, earning a MAC championship, and a win over #22 San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl. That being said, I just don’t see the Cardinals having it in them to take down Penn State.

Chance of Victory: 95%

Week 3 (Sep. 18) - vs Auburn (2020 Record: 6-5)

When the Auburn game was scheduled, the Tigers were a perennial thorn in the side of Alabama, and playing them early in the 2020 season seemed daunting.

Now? Auburn fired head coach Gus Malzahn, and the team figures to be at its weakest in some time. It’s a shame this game isn’t in November, to show them southern boys what the cold up north is, but I don’t think it should matter too much.

Chance of Victory: 75%

Week 4 (Sep. 25) - vs Villanova (2020 Record: 0-0)

The Wildcats opted not to play in 2020, and who can blame them? They may want to opt not to play this game, either.

Chance of Victory: 100%

Week 5 (Oct. 2) - BYE

I really dislike having the bye week this early. It could be worse, yes, but the Big Ten slate is always bumpy, and I’d rather have this a few weeks later. Hopefully the schedule reconfiguration helps this out.

Week 6 (Oct. 9) - at Iowa (2020 Record: 6-2)

Let the revenge tour begin!

Iowa smacked the Lions around in 2020, at the nadir of Penn State’s season. Kinnick is always terrifying, however, and Iowa appears to be its usual, stable self. I expect a dog fight in this one.

Chance of Victory: 45%

Week 7 (Oct. 16) - vs Illinois (2020 Record: 2-6)

Illinois had a rough go of things in 2020, and are hoping Bret Bielema can help turn things around. I think the cupboard is a bit bare at the moment, and just don’t see any scenario in which the Illini win at Beaver Stadium.

Chance of Victory: 95%

Week 8 (Oct. 23) - at Michigan State (2020 Record: 2-5)

Similarly, Michigan State did not enjoy much success in 2020. Their defense figures to be stout as usual, but unless their offense remembers how to actually score points, I think Penn State can win this one rather handily.

Chance of Victory: 85%

Week 9 (Oct. 30) - vs Indiana (2020 Record: 6-2)

Moar revenge tour!

Indiana punched above their weight class in 2020, taking down both Penn State and Michigan. It seems that both of those programs were simply “off” in 2020, and I expect both of them to right the ship in 2021. Can Penn State get the win at home? If Michael Penix is healthy for Indiana, this will be a close game. If he’s injured, Penn State wins easily.

Chance of Victory: 65%

Week 10 (Nov. 6) - at Maryland (2020 Record: 2-3)

So. Much. Revenge.

If there’s one game I really want to win next season, it’s this one. Maryland capitalized on a reeling Penn State in week 3 of the 2020 season, seemingly maximizing every single mistake the Lions made. Kudos to the Terps for that, and the win.

That being said, the Lions will be out for blood in this one, and I expect they’ll have it.

Chance of Victory: 75%

Week 11 (Nov. 13) - vs Michigan (2020 Record: 2-4)

Getting Michigan at home is nice, but don’t expect the Wolverines to be pushovers. I think the Wolverines - not unlike Penn State - simply had a poor 2020 season, and will be a tougher opponent in 2021.

Chance of Victory: 60%

Week 12 (Nov. 20) - at Ohio State (2020 Record: 7-1 (Big Ten Champions))

See, this is one of those things that I hope gets fixed in the schedule adjustment. A) I don’t like playing OSU this late in the season. B) Playing Michigan-Ohio State back-to-back is dumb. So here’s hoping.

Anyway. Justin Fields is gone, but it’s OSU. We all know they have a bevy of 5-star quarterbacks ready to step in and make life difficult for the Lions. Until Penn State actually wins in Columbus, I can’t predict them to actually do so.

Chance of Victory: 20%

Week 13 (Nov. 27) - vs Rutgers (2020 Record: 3-6)

Will Rutgers continue its upward trend under Greg Schiano? The Knights loaded up on transfers in 2020, as the roster was severely depleted. Can that formula work again? Sooner or later, they’ll have to build through recruiting.

Overall, I expect Schiano to put Rutgers on an upward trend, but I think 2020 may have been a quick jump, followed by a recession in 2021, before the upward mobility continues.

Chance of Victory: 85%

Overall Projected Win-Loss in 2021: 8.55-3.45

Look, I think Penn State is going to be better in 2021. Sean Clifford or otherwise at quarterback, I think 2020 was an aberration, and a lot of the games the Lions lost should switch back to the win column in 2021.

But playing at Wisconsin to start the season is tough. Playing at Iowa is always tough. Playing at Ohio State is a virtual lock to be a loss.

Sprinkle in tough home games against Indiana and Michigan, and I could realistically see the Lions being a better team next season, but without much to show for it on the field.

That being said, escape Camp Randall and Kinnick with victories? Aw yeah, it’s on.