We have finally made it; the Big Ten previews are here! No more breaking down MAC opponents, or even worse Missouri Valley Conference, yea I’m looking at you Sycamores. Today we jump ahead a week after the Hoosiers Week Five bye, and go straight to Week Six. I apologize to the truly hardcore Hoosier faithful who would want a break down of the off week, but ice baths and training tables just aren’t my thing!
Instead we are turning the calendar to October and looking ahead to Indiana’s Big Ten conference opener. The powers that be are even so intrigued by this game that they have yet to set a time or place it on a network, and will likely wait to see what type of threat the Hoosiers will present Penn State.
Week 6: Penn State Nittany Lions
Time & Date: TBA, Saturday, Oct. 5th
Venue: Memorial Stadium (Bloomington, IN)
Nittany Lions at a Glance:
Head Coach: Bill O’Brien (8-4, 1 year)
Last Season: 8-4 (6-2, 2nd Big Ten-Leaders)
Offensive Formation: Multiple
Defensive Formation: 4-3
Specials: Kicker & Punter
Returning Team Leaders:
Passing: No Returning Quarterbacks
Rushing: Zach Zwinak (203 Yds, 4.9 Avg, 6 TD)
Receiving: Allen Robinson (77 Rec., 1018 Yds, 13.2 Avg, 11 TD)
Preseason Magazine Predictions for Penn State:
Athlon: 8-4 (4-4), 3rd Place Big Ten Leaders
Lindy’s: 3rd Place Big Ten Leaders
Phil Steele: 3rd Place Big Ten Leaders
Why the Nittany Lions could win:
The Penn State program has finally put the controversy that has rattled the program behind them. The sanctions, scholarship restrictions, and bowl ban are all still in place, nevertheless there is a very obvious change in demeanor throughout the program, from the head coach on down.
It is not just the mindset of the
program that has Nittany Lions fans buzzing, but a pair of offensive skill players who are back for another season in Happy Valley. Both Zach Zwinak and Allen Robinson put up 1,000-yard seasons at their respective positions. In addition to the dynamic duo, the tight end position is incredibly deep and talented as well and will aid in the development of the quarterback position, no matter who ends up winning the job.
While many look at Penn State’s options at quarterback and see inexperience, one could also decide to focus on the obvious talent that is there, especially true freshman Christian Hackenberg. The number-one passing prospect in the nation last year was also the lynchpin of the Lions’ 2013 recruiting class. He seemingly has the leadership qualities and love of the university that was so often visible in last year’s senior class, while dealing with the tumultuous season.
On the defensive side of the ball Big Ten Freshman of the year Deion Barnes is back and poised for a monster season, and will pair with DaQuan Jones to cause havoc in the trenches. Led by a pair of returning starting safeties, the Nittany Lions secondary is as deep as it has been in years.
Penn State has a clear talent advantage in week five among the starting lineups. They have the playmakers on offense to stick with the Hoosiers dynamic offensive attack. The Lions also have the clear advantage on defense and will attempt to slow the game tempo to throw Indiana off of their rhythm.
Why They Won’t Pull it Off:
While the overbearing day-to-day pressure of the Sandusky scandal have seemingly gone away, the effects of it have not. The most prevalent of which is the depth that the program is able to build. Sure top talent level is superior to that of Indiana, but they are not able to replace injured players, or rotate to the fullest extent to have fresh bodies on the field at all times. If you don’t believe that this can take a toll on a team throughout the season just ask USC about that.
Signal caller Matt McGloin and his 24 touchdown passes graduated last season and while the quarterbacks on the Penn State roster are very talented, especially the aforementioned Hackenberg, they also have zero career snaps between them. No matter how talented you are, throughout your first season, and especially in your first Big Ten conference game, there are going to be bumps along the road.
With Penn State likely taking a step back in quarterback play, it wouldn’t be far fetched to expect a drop off in production from the receiving corps, especially Robinson who seemed to have developed a phenomenal rapport with McGloin. That should allow Indiana’s defense to focus more on shutting down Michael Zordich and the rest of the Lions’ run game.
While the Penn State defense is usually stout, they are breaking in a new coordinator in John Butler, after Ted Roof departed for his alma mater Georgia Tech. Lost to graduation were both Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges the heart and soul of the 2012 defense. Linebacker U, as Penn State has been referred to over the years, doesn’t have their usual pillars for the rest of the defense to lean on. Only Glenn Carson returns as a starter for the unit.
One thing not to be overlooked is the questions on special teams for Penn State. Kicker Sam Ficken and punter Alex Butterworth both return after very shaky seasons last year. Ficken made just 14 of his 21 field goal attempts, including the four misses against Virginia which in essence cost them the game. Buttersworth averaged a paltry 37.4 yards per punt which against an offense like Indiana’s could lead to some exceptionally quick scoring drives.
It will be tough for an inexperienced unit; paired with an inexperienced staff to be able to contain a veteran offense such as the one Indiana brings to the table. If the Hoosiers can get their offense humming early, they very well could score an upset to open the 2013 Big Ten Slate.
Based on name recognition alone this game should be no contest. Penn State is one of the blue blood programs of college football, while Indiana is anything but that. In fact the Lions have absolutely dominated their series with the Hoosiers winning all sixteen meeting dating back to 1993. These programs however are heading in very different directions. Indiana looks as if it is starting its climb up the Big Ten mountain, while Penn State is in for tough times ahead due to the NCAA sanctions. That being said, the Nittany Lions will, and should, be favored to open the Big Ten season in Bloomington
Both teams have playmakers on offense, with the Hoosiers being the more experienced unit. The defensive side of the ball is the difference here, as it usually is whenever Indiana football is discussed. While the Penn State defense is not necessarily what we are used to it is still light-years ahead of what the Hoosiers have going for them on that side of the ball. That being said, it will not be an easy contest for either squad. This will most likely be the lowest scoring affair that Indiana will play up to this point in the season.
The atmosphere at the game will be interested to see and will be heavily dependent on the non-conference success of the Hoosiers. If Indiana some how comes into Big Ten play unscathed the game could get pushed to later in the day, or even be made into an evening affair. In addition it could be the first time in ages that Memorial Stadium is actually filled to capacity by a crowd that consists of mainly Hoosier fans.
The first conference game of the season could very well set the tone for the year. This is far from a must win game for Indiana, but it is a “must play well game”. The Hoosiers cannot allow Penn State to come into Bloomington and embarrass them. If they are able to pull it off, it could propel them into their Michigan road trip when they travel to play both mitten state teams in back-to back weeks.
Indiana Chance of Winning: 25%