Penn State of Mind: Predicting the 2023 season
After a COVID shortened season in 2020 that did not bode well for Penn State and another lackluster year in 2021, the Nittany Lions came into the 2022 season with just an 11-11 combined record over their past two seasons.
However, in 2022 Penn State bounced back with an 11-2 campaign that ended with an impressive win over Utah in the Rose Bowl.
Improved offensive line play, a dynamic freshman running back duo and the Nittany Lions perennial stingy defense can be thanked for the much-needed improvements. So, the same question always remains after Penn State comes off a good season … Can the Nittany Lions take the next step and be great?
That is what we are here to discuss today with the annual Penn State of Mind Schedule Breakdown and Prediction Column. Penn State enters the 2023 season ranked No. 7 in the AP preseason rankings and returns a host of talent from last season’s 11-2 squad. Most of the starters on both the offensive and defensive line return, along with a strong core at linebacker and last season’s breakout stars in running backs Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
Highly touted 5-star quarterback Drew Allar will now step in to take over the starting quarterback position with the departure of four-year starter Sean Clifford. On paper, PSU is a contender, but can they navigate the always shark-infested Big Ten East waters for a chance to qualify for its first College Football Playoff bid?
For those keeping score at home, I predicted Penn State to finish 10-2 last season with losses to Ohio State and Michigan. The over/under for wins and losses last season for the Nittany Lions was 8.5.
Sept. 2 – vs. West Virginia
The opening line for this game (-20.5) tells you all you need to know about this matchup. The Mountaineers defense struggled last season, giving up more than 30 points per game. Add to the mix it is a 7:30 p.m. game in Beaver Stadium for the opener, and the environment is going to be tough for WVU to handle.
Prediction: Penn State 41, West Virginia 17.
Sept. 9 – vs. Delaware
Delaware has always been a solid Division 1 FCS program, but in most of the FCS preseason polls the Blue Hens are ranked right around No. 25. Penn State’s speed on both sides of the ball should be too much for Delaware to handle.
Prediction: Penn State 42, Delaware 7.
Sept. 16 – at Illinois
This will be a tough road test for Penn State early on in the season, and it will be tough for the Nittany Lions to run against the Illini’s stud defensive tackles in Jer’Zhan Newton and Keith Randolph Jr. However, the Illinois offense has a ton of question marks that include a new starter at quarterback and running back, and it also lost almost its entire starting secondary from a season ago. I don’t think the Illini have enough firepower to complete the upset.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Illinois 10.
Sept. 23 – vs. Iowa
Iowa’s offense was abysmal last season, averaging just 18.7 points per game in Big Ten play. Michigan’s backup QB from a season ago, Cade McNamara, has come over to the Hawkeyes and should help stabilize their offense, but Iowa still lacks speed and explosiveness on that side of the ball. Plus, the Hawkeyes will be coming into Beaver Stadium for the Nittany Lions annual “White Out.”
Prediction: Penn State 37, Iowa 13.
Sept. 30 – at Northwestern
Another team that struggled mightily on the offensive end last season was Northwestern, which averaged just 13.8 points per game and finished with a 1-11 record. The Wildcats have been immersed in a hazing scandal that led to the eventual dismissal of longtime head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Expect another rough campaign this season for Northwestern.
Prediction: Penn State 44, Northwestern 14.
Oct. 14 – vs. UMASS
UMASS has struggled since switching from FCS to FBS in 2012. They have not had a winning season since joining the FBS ranks and are 3-36 over its last four seasons.
Prediction: Penn State 56, UMASS 6.
Oct. 21 – at Ohio State
The road game at Illinois will certainly be a test, but here is the first big obstacle for Penn State on the season. The Nittany Lions have lost six straight to the Buckeyes, but PSU has had some chances in most of those games to take control, but faltered in the fourth quarter. I like the matchup this season for Penn State. OSU is breaking in a new quarterback, and I also believe that the Nittany Lions are better on both sides of the ball in the trenches. Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. and defensive back Kalen King is going to be a fun battle to watch.
Prediction: Penn State 34, Ohio State 24.
Oct. 28 – vs. Indiana
The Hoosiers program has been struggling of late, going 6-18 over the past two seasons. Offensive line play has been rough, and Indiana will be turning to a new quarterback this season as well. It could be another rough offensive season for the Hoosiers, which ranked near the bottom in almost every offensive category in the Big Ten last year.
Prediction: Penn State 44, Indiana 13.
Nov. 4 – at Maryland
There’s no denying Maryland is talented, and it may be in line to take the next step as the Terps finished 8-5 last season. However, Maryland will have four new starters on the offensive line and only returns five starters on the defensive side of the ball from a defense that gave up 25.7 points per game last season. Terps QB Taulia Tagovailoa, though, always gives them a fighting chance, but the PSU defense should be able to put immense pressure on Tagovailoa throughout the day.
Prediction: Penn State 38, Maryland 21.
Nov. 11 – vs. Michigan
I think Michigan may be the best team in the country. The Wolverines downhill style on the offensive end with running backs Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards is a tough style of offense to defend and I think once again creates a matchup issue for Penn State. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy is expected to improve as well, which will only bolster the Michigan offense. And the Wolverines defense might even be stronger this season after being ranked sixth nationally last season. PSU will have to play a perfect game and the fact that the game is at home will certainly help, but I don’t know if the Nittany Lions can combat the Wolverines physical style, especially in the interior of their defense.
Prediction: Michigan 27, Penn State 21.
Nov. 18 – vs. Rutgers
Rutgers averaged just 13 points per game last season on offense and still has a ton of questions marks on that side of the ball. The Scarlet Knights defense should be solid, but Penn State’s speed on the defensive end is going to make it tough for Rutgers to move the ball.
Prediction: Penn State 37, Rutgers 13.
Nov. 24 - at Michigan State
Michigan State projected starting quarterback Payton Thorne and No. 1 receiver Keon Coleman both opted to transfer out of East Lansing after the spring, so that puts a damper on the Spartans’ expected bounce back season after a 5-7 campaign last year. The Spartans defense has also struggled over the past two seasons. I think it could be another down year for MSU.
Prediction: Penn State 35, Michigan State 14.
I have Penn State finishing with an 11-1 record for this season and I think they do get in as the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff. I think they will be one of the top teams in the country as far as defensive line play and offensive line play go, and I think it’s a perfect situation for sophomore quarterback Drew Allar to step into. Allar has a strong run game and strong tight ends to lean on. The Penn State defense as a whole could end up being one of the top two or three defenses in the country when the season is all said and done. Penn State’s speed on the edge and at linebacker is going to be fun to watch. The consensus is an over/under 9.5 wins for the Nittany Lions this season. This is a tricky number, but PSU should get to 10 wins if they don’t trip up in road games at Illinois or Maryland. Take the over 9.5.