2017 football schedule analysis: Penn State Nittany Lions

2017 football schedule analysis: Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State surprised everyone by winning the Big Ten last season. Now, what will it do for an encore?

Well, the Nittany Lions could repeat, as most of the key cogs from a magical 2016 squad are back led by QB Trace McSorley and RB Saquon Barkley on offense, along with an improving line. But hurdles must be cleared on the path to another championship. Here is a look at Penn State’s 2017 schedule.

2017 schedule
Sept. 2 Akron
Sept. 9 Pitt
Sept. 16 Georgia State
Sept. 23 at Iowa
Sept. 30 Indiana
Oct. 7 at Northwestern
Oct. 14 OFF
Oct. 21 Michigan
Oct. 28 at Ohio State
Nov. 4 at Michigan State
Nov. 11 Rutgers
Nov. 18 Nebraska
Nov. 25 at Maryland

Toughest non-conference game: The visit from Pitt on Sept. 9 will be epic. These foes renewed their rivalry last year after it was dormant since 2000. Thank goodness. College football is better when these schools clash. The Panthers toppled the Nittany Lions last season, 42-39. You know Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi will have his team ready to invade Beaver Stadium. Pitt has not been to State College since 1999, the last time Penn State beat the Panthers. And Pitt hasn’t won there since 1988, losing the last four visits.

Toughest conference game: Many toughies loom, including a trip to Iowa and visits from Michigan and Nebraska. But let’s go with the game at Ohio State on Oct. 28. Making the tilt more challenging for the Nittany Lions: The trip to Columbus comes on the heels of the home game vs. the Wolverines. You know the Buckeyes have the visit from PSU circled in red, wanting to payback the Nittany Lions for last season. Penn State was the only team to beat Ohio State in the regular season, shocking the No. 2 Buckeyes 24-21 after Grant Haley ran back a blocked field goal 60 yards for the winning TD late in the fourth quarter. Before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. Penn State last won in Columbus in 2011, taking a 20-14 decision. The Nittany Lions lost 63-14 and 38-10 in their last two visits to the Horseshoe.

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Who they don’t play: This is a mixed bag for the Nittany Lions, who miss Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin.

Easiest game: The visit from Georgia State of the Sun Belt in the third game of the year on Sept. 16 should be a breeze. The Panthers just started playing football in 2010 and are in just their sixth season as a FBS program with one bowl appearance. Georgia State went 3-9 last year and hasn’t posted a winning mark since a 6-5 debut in 2010. Penn State should be able to empty the bench and name the score.

Toughest stretch: The Nittany Lions will be challenged by a four-game stretch from Oct. 7-Nov. 4, when they play three of four games on the road. The run begins with a trip to Northwestern, which could win the West. That’s followed by a visit from Michigan and then a trip to Ohio State. The stretch ends with a game at Michigan State. The Wildcats have won the last two vs. the Nittany Lions. Before that, PSU won six in a row vs. NU. Penn State beat Ohio State in 2016; before that, OSU had won four in a row vs. PSU. The Wolverines have won the last three meetings vs. the Nittany Lions, including a 28-16 victory in Beaver Stadium in 2015. Penn State will be motivated to reverse the tide in this series, as it tries to defend its Big Ten title. Penn State won the Land Grant Trophy from Michigan State last season but lost the previous three vs. the Spartans.

Best chance to be upset: The Nittany Lions need to be careful when Nebraska comes to State College on Nov. 18 in the penultimate game of the season. These storied programs haven’t clashed since 2013—in State College–and have met just three times since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten. And Nebraska has won all three meetings. PSU last toppled the Huskers in 2002 in Beaver Stadium. The Lions also need to be careful when they play at Iowa in the Big Ten opener on Sept. 23. Penn State has won three in a row vs. the Hawkeyes and won the last time in Iowa City in 2012. Still, Iowa also is a difficult out in Kinnick Stadium.

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Best chance to pull an upset: Penn State won’t be an underdog often this season. But it probably will be when it plays in the Horseshoe vs. Ohio State on Oct. 28. The Nittany Lions may be able to beat the Buckeyes for a second time in a row if their offense is humming like it was last year. Does Ohio State have the firepower to keep up with the Penn State attack? Probably not. But know this: The Nittany Lions haven’t beaten Ohio State in consecutive meetings since they joined the Big Ten. Penn State’s last back-to-back triumphs vs. Ohio State? In 1978 and 1980.

Must win: If Penn State is going to win the Big Ten East again, it will need to take care of Michigan when the Wolverines visit on Oct. 21. The Nittany Lions got embarrassed by Michigan last year, losing 49-10 to fall to 2-2. Penn State looked nothing like a Big Ten champ that day, but it rallied from that humiliation to win nine games in a row all the way to the league title and Rose Bowl.

Bye week: Penn State is off Oct. 14 after playing six games. And the timing is good, as the break comes between a trip to Northwestern and a visit from Michigan.

 

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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