The dust is settling following Penn State’s commanding Rose Bowl victory over Utah to cap off an 11-2 season that seemed highly improbable at the start of the season. With the news of transfers and returns trickling in, the lineup for the 2023 is coming into focus — and it’s shaping up to be the most highly anticipated season since at least 2017, when Trace McSorely and Saquon Barkley were returning fresh off a Big Ten Championship.
Let’s see what the 2023 regular season will bring:
H: home, A: away
WEST VIRGINIA (Sept. 2, H)
I was expecting the Mountaineers to be in complete rebuild mode, but the program decided to stick with head coach Neal Brown for at least one more season. While the productivity has dipped in recent years, West Virginia often plays to the level of its opponent. They’ll put up a fight, but Penn State’s talent should help them pull away in the second half.
DELAWARE (Sept. 9, H)
The Blue Hens are a respectable FCS program, but this should be nothing more than an opportunity to iron out some early-season kinks and clear the benches in front of the Beaver Stadium crowd.
ILLINOIS (Sept. 16, A)
Things could get tricky in week three. Illinois has a ways to go before they start thinking about Big Ten championships, but they’ve come a long way in two seasons under Bret Bielema. The Illini offense won’t be lighting up scoreboards, but they have the defense to keep an offense off-kilter. This will be a fantastic test for newbie quarterback Drew Allar in just his third start.
IOWA (Sept. 23, H)
The good news: Penn State gets to face Iowa at home rather than the oft-times house of horrors that is Kinnick Stadium. Also, Iowa’s high school-level offense will need to find a way to produce in one of the harshest atmospheres in the nation.
The bad news: Iowa added Michigan transfer Cade McNamara from the portal to take over at quarterback in 2023. McNamara is just the steady presence needed for an Iowa offense that has trouble getting off the ground. He also has a win in Beaver Stadium under his belt, as well as a Big Ten Championship from 2021 before losing his spot to J.J. McCarthy last fall. Plus, nothing seems to come easy against Iowa.
NORTHWESTERN (Sept. 30, A)
The Wildcats have won a total of four games the past two seasons after winning the West Division in 2020. Even worse, they enter the season on an 11-game losing streak. Penn State had its version of the annual “everything that can go wrong on offense will go wrong” against Northwestern in 2022, losing five fumbles in a monsoon but still winning by 10 points. Penn State could lose five fumbles again this year and use the steam pouring out of James Franklin’s ears as a source of renewable energy, and still win by double digits.
The bye comes right before the halfway point of the regular season, after being tested by at least two standout defenses to gauge the offense before moving on to bigger tests in the second half of the year.
UMASS (Oct. 14, H)
Penn State has had some troubles the week after a bye, but this won’t be one of those years. Like the Delaware game, the most stressful part of your day will be whether or not to have that second bratwurst (It’s a Saturday, go for it!).
OHIO STATE (Oct. 21, A)
This is quite the interesting quirk for the 2023 schedule. Penn State will need to survive tests from West Virginia, Illinois and Iowa. If they pass, can reach 5-0 with a vanilla game plan against Northwestern, followed with a bye week, then followed with a home game against UMASS. While I understand the necessity of the tried and true ‘1-0 this week’ mantra, the Nittany Lions could hypothetically start preparing for the Buckeyes following the Iowa contest on Sept. 23 and have nearly a month of preparation under their belts before heading to Columbus for what could be one of the most highly-anticipated games of the college football regular season.
INDIANA (Oct. 28, H)
Like Iowa, this game would be more concerning if it were on the road. Penn State gets off to sleepy starts in Bloomington, which would be amplified the week following its showdown with Ohio State. Indiana shouldn’t pose much of a threat in Beaver Stadium this year.
MARYLAND (Nov. 4, A)
Anyone else confused about Maryland in this series? The Terps came out like they were Penn State’s fiercest rivalry upon joining the Big Ten. But besides two victories against a couple of Franklin’s worst teams, Penn State has routinely flattened Maryland on an annual basis. The Terps seems to come out flat against the Nittany Lions, but look much better against other opponents, especially Ohio State and Michigan.
MICHIGAN (Nov. 11, H)
There’s no other way to put it - Michigan out-schemed and outclassed Penn State in every way imaginable last season. The silver lining is it served as a wake-up call for the program as to what is needed to compete at the highest level, as it was the last time we saw any type of poor performance (save for a few untimely turnovers against Ohio State) from the Nittany Lions. Memories of that game will be fueling the grueling offseason workouts as the team prepares for what could be a special season in 2023. They’ve had this game circled as the intensity level will be turned to 11 as they welcome them to Happy Valley with payback on their minds - and potentially much, much more.
RUTGERS (Nov. 18, H)
I’ll give Rutgers credit for typically getting up for this game and giving it their best shot. It hasn’t been enough yet, and won’t be again this year.
MICHIGAN STATE (Nov. 25, A)
Mel Tucker became a hot commodity after the Spartans had a surprising 8-0 start to the 2021 campaign. He was able to hit all the right notes in the transfer portal to help the team get to 10 wins in a year many (myself included) expected them to finish at the bottom of the Big Ten. The portal wasn’t nearly as fruitful a year ago, as the Spartans fell to a 5-7 finish. Michigan State might be hit or miss from season-to-season, but I’ll take the battle for the Land Grant Trophy to finish the regular season as opposed to match-ups with Rutgers and Maryland like we’ve seen in years past.
Hopefully a win against the Spartans results in a thirteenth game the following Saturday in Indianapolis...