Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, May 27, 2015

By most measures, James Franklin?s debut at Penn State was a success. He guided the Nittany Lions to a 7-6 mark, capped by a win over Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl-all the while negotiating a delicate roster that has been compromised by NCAA probation.

[ MORE: Get all of Tom Dienhart's 2015 schedule analysis posts ]

With scholarships restored in full, Penn State looks primed to turn a corner but remains a young team.

Challenges loom on a schedule that has six bowl teams but appears manageable and set up for a bowl trip.

Toughest non-conference game: vs. San Diego State, Sept. 26. This is an embarrassingly easy slate of non-league games-at Temple and at home vs. Buffalo, San Diego State and Army. Let?s go with the visit from San Diego State on Sept. 26. The Aztecs have some talent back from a squad that went 7-6 last year and played in a bowl. SDSU usually always has some speed, too.

Toughest conference game: at Ohio State, Oct. 17. The Nittany Lions have to travel to the reigning national champs in mid-October. The Lions have lost three in a row and five of six to the Buckeyes. PSU?s last win in Columbus came in 2011 with Tom Bradley as interim head coach. For what it's worth, the Nittany Lions also travel to Michigan State in the season finale Nov. 28, an equally tough game.

Who they don?t play: The Nittany Lions catch a big break by missing Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Purdue.

Easiest game: Home games vs. Buffalo and Army shouldn?t pose big threats for a Penn State program still dealing with a young roster that?s developing as it emerges from NCAA probation.

Toughest stretch: Penn State closes with two of three games on the road. It begins with a visit on Nov. 7 to Northwestern, which will be motivated to excel in 2015 coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons. Then comes a visit from Michigan on Nov. 21 followed by a trip to Michigan State on Nov. 28.

Factoid: Penn State opens the season at Temple. The Nittany Lions haven?t lost to the Owls in Philadelphia since a 14-0 loss in 1941. Since then, Penn State is 38-0-1 vs. Temple. But PSU barely won the last time it played Temple in Philly, taking a 14-10 decision in 2011.

Best chance to be upset: vs. Indiana, Oct. 10. With a relatively young roster, it wouldn?t be a shock if Penn State lost to anyone. The Nittany Lions need to be careful when Indiana comes to State College on Oct. 10. The Hoosiers may be peaking in their fifth season under Kevin Wilson, whose defense finally could be solid. The teams have split their last two meetings-each in Bloomington. This will be IU?s first trip to Penn state since 2012. The Hoosiers never have won in State College and are 1-17 all-time vs. PSU.

Best chance to pull an upset: at Michigan State, Nov. 28. If the Penn State offense develops (hello, offensive line!), the Nittany Lions may have a shot to stun Michigan State when they visit East Lansing in the season finale. Still, it will be a tall task.

Must win: vs. Maryland, Oct. 24. If Penn State wants to go to a decent bowl, it needs to topple Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. This is a burgeoning rivalry. And last year?s meeting in State College helped fuel it. Maryland was hit with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty before kickoff when its three captains refused to shake the hands of the three Nittany Lion captains gathered at midfield for the game's coin toss. Maryland went on to take a thrilling 20-19 victory after booting a go-ahead field goal with 51 seconds left and later apologized for the coin toss snub. No doubt, Penn State hasn?t forgotten.

Bye week: It comes after 10 games on Nov. 14. There is a shot Penn State may be 9-1. An 8-2 record looks very plausible. The Nittany Lions enter the bye off a trip to Northwestern on Nov. 7. That will give PSU two weeks to prep for a tough 1-2 punch to end 2015: vs. Michigan and at Michigan State. Can Penn State earn a split?

2015 Penn State Schedule
Sept. 5 at Temple
Sept. 12 Buffalo
Sept. 19 Rutgers
Sept. 26 San Diego State
Oct. 3 Army
Oct. 10 Indiana
Oct. 17 at Ohio State
Oct. 24 Maryland (M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore)
Oct. 31 Illinois
Nov. 7 at Northwestern
Nov. 14 OFF
Nov. 21 Michigan
Nov. 28 at Michigan State


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.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.