Best Case/Worst Case: Penn State Nittany Lions

Bill O’Brien surprised many by debuting with an 8-4 record. In fact, he went 8-2 over the last 10 games after an 0-2 start. The Nittany Lions still are dealing with severe scholarship sanctions because of NCAA probation, which will threaten to compromise the team’s thin depth. Still, the front-line talent is top-notch; and if it stays healthy, this could be another successful season in State College.

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Best case: Let’s pencil-in a 4-0 start, with no true road games in the four opening weeks. But the Nittany Lions will be pushed by visits from Central Florida and Kent State. Penn State opens Big Ten play at Indiana, which never has beaten the Nittany Lions. That skein will continue. Penn State will need the momentum and mojo of a 5-0 start as it welcomes Michigan and goes to Ohio State in consecutive games. Penn State lacks the overall talent to keep pace with these rising powers, but there’s no shame in that. PSU and Michigan haven’t met since 2010, but Penn State has won the last three meetings. Before that, Michigan ripped off nine victories in succession vs. Penn State. The Buckeyes have had Penn State’s number in recent years, too, winning eight of the last 11 meetings. The good news: The next three games are very winnable—Illinois; at Minnesota; Purdue. Even shorthanded, the Nittany Lions have more talent than any of those three clubs. That’s eight wins, matching last year’s win total. But the victories will end there, with games vs. Nebraska and at Wisconsin to end the season each resulting in losses. (The Nittany Lions are 0-2 vs. the Huskers since Nebraska joined the Big Ten. But know this: Penn State has won four of the last six meetings vs. a Wisconsin program that has gone to three Rose Bowls in a row.) Still, a repeat of last year’s 8-4 mark is a nice feat and worth celebrating, as Penn State continues to defy the odds.

Aug. 31: Syracuse (at East Rutherford, N.J.) – W
Sept. 7: Eastern Michigan – W
Sept. 14: UCF – W
Sept. 21: Kent State – W
Oct. 5: at Indiana – W
Oct. 12: Michigan – L
Oct. 26: at Ohio State – L
Nov. 2: Illinois – W
Nov. 9: at Minnesota – W
Nov. 16: Purdue – W
Nov. 23: Nebraska – L
Nov. 30: at Wisconsin – L
8-4 overall; 4-4 Big Ten

Worst case: Syracuse is retooling with a new coach and Eastern Michigan may be the worst FBS program in the nation. So, a 2-0 start is a given. Visits from UCF and Kent State are more dangerous than they look. In fact, UCF is gonna leave State College with a win—like Ohio did last season. Yes, Penn State never has lost to Indiana; but this is a talented—and motivated—Hoosiers team that will ease years of pain by finally dumping the Nittany Lions. That will be the first of three losses in a row for Penn State, with a visit from Michigan next followed by a trip to Ohio State that will be ugly. Bill O’Brien is still hacked off at Tim Beckman for recruiting his players, so PSU rips Illinois like it did last year. But the Nittany Lions are ambushed on the road by an improving Minnesota club the next week. A visit from Purdue is just what the doctor ordered to follow up on the loss to the Golden Gophers. Penn State needs to savor the win over the rebuilding Boilermakers—because it will be their last. A visit from Nebraska—maybe the top team in the Legends Division—and season-ending junket to Wisconsin—revenge-minded after losing in overtime in State College last year–result in losses. A 5-7 season will be Penn State’s first losing mark since a 4-7 record in 2004.

Aug. 31: Syracuse (at East Rutherford, N.J.) – W
Sept. 7: Eastern Michigan – W
Sept. 14: UCF – L
Sept. 21: Kent State – W
Oct. 5: at Indiana – L
Oct. 12: Michigan – L
Oct. 26: at Ohio State – L
Nov. 2: Illinois – W
Nov. 9: at Minnesota – L
Nov. 16: Purdue – W
Nov. 23: Nebraska – L
Nov. 30: at Wisconsin – L
5-7 overall; 2-6 Big Ten

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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Your Opinion?
Show Comments (8 Comments)
Josh from Virginia on 7/30/2013 @ 10:39pm EDT Said:

Best case: 12-0
Worst case: 10-2

Last summer I predicted no worse than 9-3, so I was only off by a point or two.

I can tell PSU will have a great year and Iowa will not because they do not play each other this year… (That always happens).

2138 Days since Michigan last beat Penn State in football. And they won’t win this year either.

PSU will also beat Nebraska finally. It’s just time.

You guys keep talking about Wisconsin getting revenge for last year, but most of the PSU players haven’t forgotten the last trip to Wisconsin… If PSU has the Division locked up, then I think they win that one too.

PSU has bye weeks in just the right places for a team breaking in a new QB. ZZ didn’t get solid playing time until the second half of the 4th game last year. Expect a big year from him.

PSU will need to play near perfect and have a bit of luck to get the win at OSU, but it is possible.

James on 7/31/2013 @ 11:31am EDT Said:

Wouldn’t a “BEST CASE” scenario include at least a win at Wisconsin? I can even see a win at home vs. Michigan (oddsmakers have it close), so really a BEST CASE scenario is 10-2. I think an 8-4 season is more likely myself, but we are talking BEST/WORST cases.

Fuzz on 7/31/2013 @ 11:32am EDT Said:

Lol. Josh is delusional. Penn State doesn’t stand a chance against any teams with merit this year. Especially not Nebraska. Nebraska’s offense will put 40 points on Penn State who’ll be lucky to score more than 20. If PSU makes 9 wins this season, everyone will be surprised. I predict they won’t win more than 7.

Trevor Neary on 7/31/2013 @ 11:33am EDT Said:

Josh, you’re on crack. They definitely won’t go 12-0…and worst case is definitely closer to the 5-7 predicted than 10-2…i’d maybe say worse case is 6-6…but beat Michigan? Not a chance man. Michigan is IMO the 2nd best team in the B10 and right up there with OSU…good luck. Also, as much as I’d like you to, you won’t beat Nebraska.

DMH (@HaloKitty343) on 7/31/2013 @ 12:59pm EDT Said:

They’d have to be unusually extremely healthy to get to 9 or 10 wins. That depth problem is going to catch up to them eventually. I like the Gopher upset pick in worst case more than the IU one for this reason – – injuries more likely to pile up later in the year and they have a bye before the IU game.

Josh from Virginia on 7/31/2013 @ 11:41pm EDT Said:

I know something you don’t know.

Josh from Virginia on 8/1/2013 @ 12:25am EDT Said:

Minnesota? I’m more concerned with Indiana and Purdue (trap game, but luckily at home).
PSU has won the last 4 over Minnesota, but haven’t played since 2010.
PSU and Minnesota won’t play again until 2016.
So whoever wins this game will hold on to the Governor’s Victory Bell until then.
That’s right this is a trophy game! And Penn State needs some trophies!
PSU was 6-2 in the Big Ten last year, while Minnesota was 2-6.
PSU and Minn. had 6 common opponents in 2012 and PSU won 5 of those, while Minn. won 2.

PSU v. Michigan is Homecoming, Night game, and probably a full stadium white-out. PSU should be 5-0, and I hope Michigan can be 5-0 as well, if they can get past ND.

Nebraska games have been close, but I like PSU to win this year.

Jon on 8/1/2013 @ 7:48am EDT Said:

Best Case: 10-2 (losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin)
Worst Case: 7-5 (additional losses to UCF, Michigan and Nebraska)

UCF is the only legitimate non-con threat. Indiana, while dangerous, has never beaten Penn State. They’ll have to do that before I’ll ever predict them to do so. Minnesota is still Minnesota.