Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, May 19, 2016
This is a big season for James Franklin, who has done a lot of good things his first two years in State College. But he?s just 14-12 overall and 6-10 in the Big Ten. And Penn State finished last season with four consecutive losses. The roster is now mostly full of his players and he has tweaked his staff. Will this lead to the Nittany Lions moving up the ladder in the rugged Big Ten East? A tough schedule looms, which only complicates matters.
Here is my look at Penn State?s 2016 slate.
[MORE: Penn State's offseason to-do list ]
Toughest non-conference game: Finally, Pitt and Penn State are playing. Too bad this isn?t an annual affair. But that?s a story for another day. Let?s enjoy the renewal of this fierce rivalry, as the Nittany Lions trek west to play the Panthers on Sept. 10. Penn State leads the all-time series, 50-42-4. Pitt won the last meeting, taking a 12-0 decision in the Steel City way back in 2000. Prior to that, the Nittany Lions had won seven in a row.
Toughest conference game: There are plenty to choose from – at Michigan on Sept. 24; vs. Ohio State on Oct. 22; vs. Iowa on Nov. 5; vs. Michigan State on Nov. 26. But let?s go with the visit from the Spartans in the finale. There could be a lot on the line for the Nittany Lions. If they want to be the best in the Big Ten, they have to beat the best, and that?s what the Spartans were in 2015. Michigan State has won the last three meetings and hasn?t lost in State College since 2008.
Who they don?t play: The Nittany Lions catch a break by missing Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Illinois also is off the slate.
Have you read our most recent schedules analysis posts?
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Easiest game: It won?t get any easier than the season opener vs. Kent State on Sept. 3. The Golden Flashes went 3-9 last year, losing their last five in 2015.
Toughest stretch: Things get tough early, as Penn State goes to Pitt on Sept. 10, plays host to Temple on Sept. 17 and travels to Michigan on Sept. 24. That three-game run will tell us a lot about James Franklin?s third squad. Pitt and Penn State will play for the first time in 16 years. Last season, the Owls dumped Penn State, 27-10, to end a 39-game winless streak vs. the Nittany Lions that dated to 1941. Penn State has lost its last two vs. Michigan, last winning in Ann Arbor in 2009.
Best chance to be upset: The Nittany Lions need to be careful when they play at Indiana on Nov. 12. By then, the Hoosier offense could be running smoothly under a new quarterback. And if Penn State tries to trade points with IU, it could be in trouble. The Nittany Lions have won the last two against Indiana but lost in 2013 in Bloomington, PSU?s lone loss in the series (18-1).
Best chance to pull an upset: James Franklin needs a signature victory, a momentum building triumph that can help propel the Nittany Lions up the food chain in the Big East. So, how about slaying Ohio State when it visits on Oct. 22? The Buckeyes, who have many big holes to fill, have won the last four and haven?t lost in Beaver Stadium since 2005, winning the last four in Happy Valley.
Must win: Iowa should be favored when it plays in State College on Nov. 5, but Penn State needs to protect its turf. The Hawkeyes are rolling, coming off a 12-2 Rose Bowl season and are led by QB C.J. Beathard. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is a Keystone State native who likes to come home. Penn State has won the last two. But before that, the Hawkeyes won eight of nine.
Bye week: The timing is good, as Penn State is off at the midway point after six games on Oct. 15. The off week falls between a home game vs. Maryland and a visit from Ohio State.
2016 Penn State schedule
|Sat.||9/3||vs. Kent State||TBA|
|Sat.||9/24||at 12 Michigan||TBA|
|Sat.||10/8||vs. Maryland||12:00 PM ET|
|Sat.||10/22||vs. 4 Ohio State||8:00 PM ET|
|Sat.||11/5||vs. 9 Iowa||7:30 PM ET||BTN/BTN2|
|Sat.||11/19||at Rutgers||8:00 PM ET||BTN/BTN2|
|Sat.||11/26||vs. 6 Michigan State||TBA|
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