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Expect a big year from Penn State

Published August 30. 2018 03:27PM

One of my favorite times of the year has arrived – college football season.

Week 1 for the Penn State Nittany Lions is just two days away, with Appalachian State coming into State College with an upset victory on its mind (3:30 p.m. BTN). Expectations are once again high for Penn State after back-to-back 11-win seasons and New Year’s Six Bowl bids.

The pollsters in both the AP and Amway Coaches Poll seem to think the Nittany Lions are well-deserving of the preseason hype as well, as they are ranked No. 10 in the AP poll, while the Amway Coaches Poll has them ranked at No. 9.

As I like to do every preseason — much like I’m sure you like to do at home — I go through the schedule and predict how many wins and losses Penn State will have after its 12-game slate. So, let’s get started…

Week 1 - vs. Appalachian St.

Notes: Appalachian State is no slouch, as its looking to capture its third-straight Sun Belt Conference championship, while also looking to qualify for a fourth consecutive bowl game. The Mountaineers are coached well, and they like to run the football, and always have a bunch of speed in the backfield. Appalachian State might have some success early on running the football against the Nittany Lions as they figure out their defensive tackle depth, but the Mountaineers defense just isn’t good enough to combat Penn State’s offense.

Prediction: Penn State 41, Appalachian State 17.

Week 2 – at Pitt

Notes: A rivalry game that doesn’t seem to have the juice, because of Pitt’s recent struggles. However, Pitt has come up with one upset in each of the past two seasons, defeating Clemson two years ago, and Miami last season. I think this game could end up being a battle, especially because it’s on the road and at night. But then I think of Penn State’s explosiveness on offense, and the lack of just that on Pitt’s offense. The Pitt “D” will keep them in it for a half, but Penn State pulls away.

Prediction: Penn State 38, Pitt 10.

Week 3 – vs. Kent State

Notes: According to Athlon Sports, no team has scored fewer points over the last four years than Kent State. I think that’s all we need to know in this one.

Prediction: Penn State 52, Kent State 13.

Week 4 – at Illinois

Notes: This is a Friday night game for Penn State, which I’m sure has some people worried. Different practice schedule, different game time, etc… But Illinois is just 2-16 in Big Ten play in Lovie Smith’s tenure, and went 0-9 last season in conference play.

Prediction: Penn State 38, Illinois 7.

Week 5 – vs. Ohio State

Notes: The matchup everyone will be waiting for. The key here is Penn State’s offensive line play. If the Nittany Lions can keep the Buckeyes from getting pressure on quarterback Trace McSorley, it should be a pretty good day for Penn State. That won’t be an easy task with future top-five pick Nick Bosa and a host of other talented defensive linemen coming after McSorley. But a white-out home environment with an explosive offense and a defense that is going to be better than most people think, I think Penn State gets it done.

Prediction: Penn State 34, Ohio State 31.

Week 6 - Bye

Week 7 – vs. Michigan State

Notes: This is a game I think the Nittany Lions have circled on their calendar from the debacle

that went down in East Lansing last season. The problem last season besides the long weather delay was Penn State’s pass rush. They couldn’t get to Brian Lewerke and he made the Nittany Lions pay, picking them apart. This season, I believe Penn State will have one of the best pass rushes in all of the country, which should help them in this one. McSorley will need to be dynamic and take care of business against a veteran defensive group that was ranked in the top 10 last season. In front of a home crowd, the Nittany Lions get revenge.

Prediction: Penn State 27, Michigan State 17.

Week 8 - at Indiana

Notes: After a big win, a road game can sometimes be tough. Indiana has historically played the Nittany Lions tough over the years, especially in Bloomington. But the Hoosiers have too many question marks, a ton of players returning from injury that missed significant time last season, and lack steadiness at the quarterback position. If Penn State gets to this point without a blemish you can bet they will be rolling out of Indiana with a “W.”

Prediction: Penn State 34, Indiana 14.

Week 9 - vs. Iowa

Notes: After squeaking by the Hawkeyes last season on the road at one of the toughest environments in the Big 10, the Nittany Lions will welcome Iowa to Beaver Stadium. The Hawkeyes do have Nate Stanley on offense at quarterback, but lost a big part of their running game in Akrum Wadley, and on defense they lost Josey Jewell and Josh Jackson, who were two of the better defenders in the Big 10 last season. The Hawkeyes have to replace too many leaders and playmakers to be able to go into Beaver Stadium and come away with a win.

Prediction: Penn State 42, Iowa 24

Week 10 - at Michigan

Notes: The last time the Nittany Lions went to Ann Arbor in 2016 it didn’t go well. The Wolverines dominated from the kick, defeating Penn State 49-10. Trust me Tamaqua head basketball coach Jim Barron never lets me forget about it. There’s no denying the talent on the Michigan defense, which in my opinion could be the best in the country, but once again they have some big question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Is Shea Patterson the answer at quarterback? Will the offensive line be better? This is not the same Penn State team that went into The Big House two years ago, and because of that and Michigan’s offensive question marks I think the Nittany Lions get the win.

Prediction: Penn State 31, Michigan 24.

Week 11 - vs. Wisconsin

Notes: Wisconsin is for real and the hype for the Badgers is real as well with them coming in at No. 4 in the AP poll preseason rankings. Wisconsin has arguably the best offensive line in the country and running back Jonathan Taylor, who has emerged as one of the best running backs in the country running behind it. The Badgers can pound the football and slow the game down, but can they do enough on defense to stop Penn State at home, where it’s riding a 14-game winning streak. I think this a game where the Nittany Lions have the best chance of losing. With their questions at defensive tackle and at middle linebacker, I could see Wisconsin grinding up the clock, and keeping the ball out of McSorley’s hands.

Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Penn State 24.

Week 12 - at Rutgers

Notes: Rutgers hasn’t shown much since joining the Big 10, and I don’t expect a let down even after a loss to Wisconsin the week before. This a perfect bounce back game for Penn State.

Prediction: Penn State 45, Rutgers 14.

Week 13 - vs. Maryland

Notes: This game will be treated as a playoff game for Penn State as it will need this win to clinch a spot in the Big 10 Championship game and a possible spot in he College Football Playoff. Just on that point alone I have the Nittany Lions closing out the year at home with a victory. Penn State will have to shutdown the Maryland rushing attack, but I still think the Terrapins are a year or two away from winning these types of games.

Prediction: Penn State 41, Maryland 21.

After 12 games and 13 weeks I have the Nittany Lions finishing 11-1, punching a ticket to the Big 10 Championship to have a chance at redemption against Wisconsin, and a chance to qualify for the College Football Playoff.

You can e-mail me your predictions at bhurley@tnonline.com so I can see how close you are to my picks, and we can all follow along throughout the season.

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