2015 Penn State Football Preview

Submitted by alum96 on August 4th, 2015 at 2:57 PM

Disclaimer:  My previews of Big 10 teams are based on viewing of 2014 games of said teams plus extensive reading of local and national previews of that team.  I might be wrong in my assessment any one team or any specific unit of that team.  But that's clearly doubtful. (!!)  No, on a serious note I enjoy people who comment who live locally to these teams or is an opposing fan - helps us get a better perspective so if you are one feel free to add to the discussion. 

I also write this with the assumption Jake Rudock is the starting QB as the matrix of possibilities is too great trying to predict things with Shane Morris as a start.


Penn State 2014 reminded me a lot of Michigan 2013.  A QB with a lot of potential who was hit or miss from week to week (and suffering from PTSD) behind a horrid OL and a non impressive running game, married to a quality defense.   I've been struck how dismissive the general UM fanbase is about 2015 Penn State in these "2015 prediction" threads that pop up weekly.  There are a lot of "cumong man we beat them in 2014 with Hoke - 2015 is going to be a UM win!!  Don't be a troll!!  Harbaugh!!!"

You'd think UM was a powerhouse and PSU was Rutgers (who UM lost to last year as well).  Yes Harbaugh... but PSU brings a NFL potential 1st round pick in at QB, an OL that will probably show the same improvement UM's did between 2013 and 2014, return a lot of players from the best Big 10 defense in 2014, and has probably the most underrated coordinator in the conference if not the country on defense.  A lot of people seem to be dismissing any improvement out of Hackenberg and think he will be 2014 Devin Gardner - I disagree.   It also doesn't mean PSU is a powerhouse but right now PSU and UM are essentially peers in terms of football level.  I'd place this along with @Utah as the 3rd toughest game on the slate.  It also happens to be in one of the toughest venues in CFB to play a game - ask OSU last year.

To that end Vegas has set the win total for PSU at 7.5.  Identical to UM's.  Again these are programs at a very similar spot with not dissimilar talent.  And the game will be in Happy Valley - so I am not sure where this immense confidence about this game comes from, from many in the fanbase.

As for those odds I'd be taking the over all day as PSU has the potential to come out 6-0 to begin the year:  Temple, Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army, and Indiana.   All PSU would need to do is win 2 games the rest of the year to best that 7.5 win total.  And of the remaining 7 games, foes include Illinois and a not so good Maryland.  Northwestern will be on the road but is no great shakes.   UM is at home and the 2 teams are very similar.  So even if you give losses vs MSU and OSU (both on the road so very likely) PSU has an excellent chance for 9 wins IMO.

PSU returns ~15 starters (~8 offense, ~7 defense) on a squad that was not far away from 10 wins last year.  Assuming the PSU OL makes the same improvement UM's did btw 2013-2014, and Hackenberg plays anything like a NFL 1st round draft pick nearly everyone has him pegged to be, combined with another top 20ish type defense and PSU could have a very promising year. 

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Last year

Penn State combined what was IMO the best defense in the conference (FEI #9, S&P+ #13) with a 2013 UM like offense (FEI #101, S&P+ #82).  The results were predictable: 7-6. 

(If you use NCAA's stats for defense - which I don't prefer as they don't adjust for SOS and all Big 10 defenses get inflated due to some horrid offenses in the conference - PSU looked even better:  #2 in total defense, # 3 in rushing defense, #7 scoring defense)

The Nittany Lions had one of the most well-rounded Ds in the country -- third in Passing Downs S&P+, fourth in Rushing S&P+, ninth in Standard Downs S&P+, 10th in Passing S&P+

The offensive line was horrific - ranked #111 (out of 128) in Football Outsiders's rankings. 

Only seven teams allowed more frequent sacks on passing downs. Only three teams allowed more run stuffs in the backfield. Only four teams created fewer downfield opportunities for their backs.

PSU entered with only two experienced starters (Donovan Smith, Miles Dieffenbach), and one got hurt. Redshirt freshmen Andrew Nelson and Brendan Mahon combined to start 22 times. Converted defensive tackle Brian Gaia started 12.

Four of the 7 wins came out of conference with only the win over UCF in Dublin, Ireland being competitive.  PSU is infamous for playing patsy city in non conf.   Despite a defense that kept them in every game except vs MSU... and strangely Northwestern, PSU could only manage 2 conference wins (Rutgers/Indiana).  But 3 of their 4 other losses were by a combined 8 pts and then they lost by 7 in OT to OSU in the 4th game.   (If memory serves there was a phantom PI in that game vs PSU that helped OSU escape with a win)   So ANY production out of their offense and PSU 2014 could have been quite a good year actually, with double digit wins very viable.   Strangely they had a reversal of form in the bowl game vs Boston College where scary Hackenberg showed up (34/50 68% completion rate, 7.4 yards per attempt, 371 yards, 4 TD 0 INT), and the defense fell apart.

A defense led by Anthont Zettel and Mike Hull was generally excellent despite the inept offense, and the kicking game was solid with Sam Ficken 24/29 in FGs incl 8/9 from 40-49 yards out.   Punting was meh.

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This year

PSU returns the bulk of its team, losing only 7 starters.  The skill position players on offense could be anywhere from good to great.  The question is on the OL.  The defense lost some talent but their DC has a very good track record so I'd expect internal development to fix any holes, and a stodgy defense that gave us less than 19 pts per game in 2014 to remain an issue for opponents.   The schedule sets up for a big start which will boost confidence and PSU might be favored in every game but 2 on their schedule. 

With a weak non-conference slate (which does include a landmine trip to Temple in Week 1), PSU is scheduled to play three top-50 teams.

The 2 crossover games are Illinoi and Northwestern - not exactly muderer's row.  PSU is the obvious candidate to challenge UM for "3rd slot" in the Big 10 East and has fewer questions .  They also have a coaching staff going into their 2nd year,  rather than their 1st.  

On defense the production of Mike Hull must be replaced and PSU needs to break in a new placekicker. 

As always, Bill Connelly's team previews are a must read if you are a fan of the game.


Penn State Offense

I won't repeat myself yet again about Hack and that OL.  You get the point.  Hack had a 58.9% completion rate, with 3K yards, and solid 7.5 yard per attempt season as a freshman when he was only sacked 21 times.  His TD to INT ratio was 2:1.   All those #s fell his sophomore year as he was sacked 44 times and if you watched more than 1-2 PSU games you saw a man running for his life on almost every dropback.  Hack also lost coach O'Brien which certainly was not a positive.  I expect the 2015 PSU OL to be 2014 UMlike and Hack to have more time and be in the top 3 in Big 10 QBs and be a scary foe.

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Hackenberg returns his top 2 weapons at WR in RS SO DeaSean Hamilton (82 catches, 899 yards, 11.0 ave), and SR Geno Lewis (55 catches, 751 yards, 13.7 ave).    Lewis' stats were in the Funchess range so you can see this is a dynamic duo.  PSU also played two other freshmen extensively last year - including Chris Godwin who exploded for 140 yards in the bowl game - so this unit will benefit from that trial by fire.

Leading rusher SR Akeel Lynch returns.  He was able to average 4.6 yards per carry behind an awful line so any assumed improvement by that OL is only going to benefit him as will defenses needing to play their secondary deep to account for Hackenberg.  PSU also brought in some very highly touted RBs in last year's class and this is 1 position on offense true freshman can have an impact right away.   Saquon Barkley was the 247 compositive 123rd best player (#14 RB) and Andre Robinson was #258 (#19 RB).  There are also some redshirt freshmen in the mix so bodies won't be an issue here.

PSU did lose very good TE Jesse James (38 catches, 396 yards. 10.4 ave) to the NFL but overall PSU does not lack skill position skill or experience.  It's a lot better than UM's in terms of being proven and prolific.  The issue is that OL.  If it can just be mediocre this offense could skyrocket vs its 2014 ranks.PS

PSU returns 6 linemen with starting experience.  Only 1 is a senior.  Offensive lineman generally get better with age.... so I expect improvement.  The question is will it be modest or significant.  PSU also brought in a 4 star JUCO prospect they expect to start (must be nice).  With the young talent at the edges of this offense even marginal improvement from the OL could have PSU nearing double digit wins.

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Penn State Defense

When I did my analysis of Michigan coaching candidates post November, I took a look at 2013's two hot names in a theoretical world where Hoke was fired post 2013 - Strong and Franklin.   As I broke down Franklin I was not super impressed - he was an offensive minded coach whose offenses were not great.  Obviously he has charisma and can recruit (sounds familiar) but thus far in his HC career he has relied on a man named Bob Shoop.  Shoop built the Vanderbilt defenses that allowed the team to rise from afterthought in the Franklin era and in his first year at PSU he had the team playing at a near elite level despite a horrific offense.  So there were no excuses there like we heard for Mattison here - you CAN have a great defense even if your offense is a joke (Florida and Texas were similarly able to perform on defense despite galling offenses).   Shoop was in play for the LSU job when Chavis left for A&M but PSU locked him down for 3 years at a million per so expect excellent PSU defenses in the near future.  At only 48 years old I expect Shoop to get a head coach offer sooner rather than later.

The starting tackles of PSU might be the best tandem in the nation with Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson.  This was the 3rd best defense against the run - a major problem for UM which only managed 64 yards vs PSU last year.  Zettel was also awesome as a penetrator with 17 TFL and 8 sacks - this is a man's man.  Did I mention he had 3 INTs?  UM didnt have a DB with 3 INTs last year.  Despite being tiny for his position (280ish) Zettel is widely projected as a 2nd/3rd round talent at a position where it is rare to be picked in the 1st.

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Much like UM, PSU has questions at DE with last year's starters (Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan) graduating, and another question at MLB where all everything Mike Hull (140 !!! tackles) graduated.   Junior Nyeem Wartman (a 2 year starter at OLB) slid over to that position in spring ball.  And to be fair the DEs had all of 9 sacks combined... again Zettel had 8 alone.  Rush defense on the edges of the line is probably the area to see if PSU can maintain 2014 levels.

The secondary returns 3 starters and most publications are very high on quite a few of these players - especially Marcus Allen who started 7 games as a true freshman last year and "played as well as any safety in college football the second half of the year." - Bob Shoop.  John Lucas - a 2 year starter at corner - is switching to safety.   One corner is manned by senior Trevor Williams with the other corner up for grabs.

Penn State returns four of its top six linemen, three of four linebackers, and three of four defensive backs. Shoop didn't play a large rotation, but quite a few difference-makers within that rotation return, and the personality won't change much.


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(take these matchups with more of a grain of salt than usual because once you get past the month of September teams grow and evolve - well at least well coached teams.)

UM rush off v PSU rush def - Adv: PSU.  PSU returns two sterling DTs off the 3rd best rush defense in the nation last year.  Against an offense where running the ball not using the QB (or Drake Johnson) has been an adventure for a few years.  UM has a lot to prove here.

UM pass off v PSU pass def - Adv: Even.   I am probably being kind with my even here for UM.  While PSU doesn't bring a ton of pass rush outside they do have penetrating DTs and that combined with what should be a very good secondary could pose a lot of issues if secondary receiving threats have not emerged for UM by November.  I am going with the thesis that one WR emerges by then to offset Darboh and Butt.  (and even Darboh is no sure thing - we are all just projecting him to see a #1 WR when he has not yet been one)  Rudock will need to have a very good game in a road environment as UM's rush offense will be very challenged.  UM's OL will need to be top notch in pass protect as well, especially the center and guards.

PSU rush off v UM rush def - Adv: UM.  PSU has a good RB but just as PSU stuffed UM's running attack so did UM to PSU's.  PSU's OL and UM's DEs are the big question marks as these 2 units face off.

PSU pass off v UM pass def - Adv: PSU.   Potential NFL 1st round QB with pair of top end WRs against a back 7 that has a lot of questions to answer in the passing game.  UM's secondary depth at the corners will concern me until I see anyone not named Lewis or Lyons show it on the field in real games.  I am hoping it's Watson but I expect a lot of nickel packages in this game with the vertical threat PSU poses.


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I like PSU more than the experts and most board members in 2015, due to (1) the schedule, (2) belief that OLs improve with age (even if just to "mediocre" level), (3) my study of Bob Shoop and belief he is severely underrated nationally and (4) the advantage of having a 3rd year starting QB of this pedigree.   Yes we had a 3rd year starter ourselves last year (sort of) but we were the exception to the rule where having one was a boon.  (Ironically we have another one this year assuming Rudock wins the job)

More specific to PSU in relation to UM this game is very late in the season and as we know with football, injuries by that point in the year can change the complexion of this game quite a bit.  So projecting is difficult  On paper thru September, I give PSU the edge as their main question marks are placekicker, OL, and DE.  They have an established back - we do not.  They have a top end WR and a great secondary WR, we do not.  While we have a solid QB in Rudock the ceiling for Hackenberg is obviously huge and this is the 2nd year in the system - Rudock starts from scratch.  Their defense was simply better than ours last year and while they lost Hull we lost Ryan and Clark which would be equivalents to their Hull.  Both teams have what should be excellent DTs but theirs are established and ours are still a bit of potential.   Both should have solid DBs with a young star - their young star started 7 games last year, ours barely played.  While Harbaugh >>>> Franklin IMO, PSU has the advantage at defensive coordinator as we have a newbie there.  Rudock needs a huge game here as does the UM pass defense.  I doubt UM will get many yards on the ground vs PSU's front.

PSU was a few plays away last year from a 9-10 win season.  UM was a few plays away from a 7 win season.  We have more room to make up and less NFL talent among upperclassmen...and it's in Happy Valley.   PSU also has a bye week to prepare (not that it mattered for UM in the Hoke era but PSU's staff should use it better) while UM will be in Indiana.  I am calling this a coin flip but in reality home field advantage alone gives PSU the edge and I'd expect PSU to be favored by 5ish if everyone is healthy.   Winning this type of game for UM would be a boon for the 2015 season and could be the difference between 7-8 wins and 9-10.




Everyone Murders

August 4th, 2015 at 3:19 PM ^

In the UM Pass Off v. PSU Pass Def. section you say "Northwestern's back 4 should be quality - ... ".  Do you mean to reference PSU's back 4 here, or is this a carryover from an NU preview? 

Great preview overall - especially the views on why 7.5 wins seems low for a PSU team with a formidable D.  Thank you for doing these.


August 4th, 2015 at 3:54 PM ^

I skip around from section to section when I write these (they don't go from top to bottom of page) and I originally posted this without editing 2 of the 4 matchups in error.  (the template was the northwestern preview so that is why you saw northwestern there)

These take quite a few hrs just to write so by the 2nd hr I am freaking out the computer will reboot and make me start from scratch, so I sort of rush to post at the end, then go back and try to fix mmost of the errors.  Wish mgoblog had "save draft" option like a basic message board.

Stringer Bell

August 4th, 2015 at 3:24 PM ^

Count me as one that is extremely unimpressed with James Franklin and thinks he'll hold his team back.  Based on the few PSU games I saw (mostly the game against Michigan), it seems that he often makes coaching decisions that make even Brady Hoke scratch his head.  We'll see.  On paper PSU looks tough, but coaching is why I think a team like Miinnesota provides more of a challenge than PSU.


August 4th, 2015 at 3:58 PM ^

Yeah I think the way the season plays out PSU will have a lot of  momentum coming out of 2015 as Hack will do very well, then he leaves for the NFL early and Zettel leaves and 2016 PSU has more questions.  So we'll see how that 2016 offense works out if that happens but 2016 PSU OL will be 2015 UM OL and PSU is pretty stacked with young Wrs... and has a lot of high ranked rbs coming in too.  PSU recruiting has picked up the past 1.5 years.

I didnt look too deep into the PSU OC so I dont have a strong opinion but if the offense can remain average i.e. top 40-50 nationally and Shoop sticks around they have a good system in place. 

I also should not have written Shoop is underrated nationally - LSU came after him so among coaches they are respecting what he is doing.  Just the casual fan in the Big 10 has no idea who he is or how good he appears.  I also think Wisconsin's DC (despite what OSU did) does great work with the type of talent Wisconsin gets.


August 4th, 2015 at 5:10 PM ^

I similarly just can't get past the head coach factor.  I thought Bill O'Brien was a GREAT college coach.  If he was still there and taking on Harbaugh with this team, it would make for a pretty daunting road matchup.  Franklin seems okay to me, but he ain't no BOB.


August 6th, 2015 at 4:23 PM ^

First, your reviews are awesome. So thank you.

But in regards to Hack, I am not so bullish. Unless he had some sort of major soph slump, he is not NFL material. Otherwise, he would have risen above that level of play. I just think his decision making is slow and a good defense can speed the game up beyond him. Yes, the OL was not great but part of that is his fault ... kind of like Gardner. NFL level QBs process things way quicker.

I think this game will be much the same as last year. Two good defenses square off in an ugly low scoring affair. Playing in that stadium with its "white out'" is daunting. But becasue it will be a defensive dual, the crowd may not be that much of a factor. To me this is a true toss-up.


August 4th, 2015 at 3:35 PM ^

Their offense was painfully awful last year.  They went 2-6 in the Big Ten and cleaned up on a weak ooc schedule. Michigan was 3-5 with the essentially the same conference schedule except they played Illinois (to whom they lost!), instead of Minnesota (to whom we lost!).

I do expect PSU's offense to be at least marginally better this year; it would be hard to be as bad or worse.  Their defense should be good again this year.  But unless Penn St. really surprises with huge improvements on offense, Michigan should prevail.  I think the whole late in the season thing is an advantage to Michigan, both in understanding the new coaching staff, plays, and system, and in having greater depth than Penn St. at most positions.

It is, as you point out, an away game for Michigan, and that is an advantage to PSU.  Still, and maybe this is just the homer in me, but I'd expect Michigan to be favored by 3 in that game.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:14 PM ^

What position groups aside from OL and TE do you think UM is better than PSU at (without maize colored glasses)?  It is a serious question and I don't have many I can point to so I have hard time arguing UM should clearly win. I dont see the 2 teams as eons apart but I dont see many position groups a neutral will pick UM's group "no question".

UM fans will claim safety based on a guy who played 1.5 games his entire NCAA career and another guy Mattison benched at times last year.  PSU has talent at safety too.  UM fans will claim linebacker - we dont have dynamic playmakers there - we have workmanlike serviceable guys.  PSU has to replace Hull but has similar talent.  PSU DTs could be the best duo in the nation.  Both teams have open questions at DE.  PSU has way more production at Wr.   If you have major maize colored glasses you could say QB is a wash.

All I have is TE for UM, and I'd say running back MAY be a wash (maybe) and UM OL is better ....hard not to be because PSU OL was a horror show last year.   So if I have 8 position groups and can only find 2 I see a distinct advaantage hard for me to go gung ho on UM in this matchup.

Also have to think how the game works out - both teams run defense should limit the other teams run offense.  What does that leave?  PSU pass offense to attack UM's pass defense... and UM's pass offense to attack PSU's pass defense.  Which pass offense has less questions? 

I also think playing PSU early would be better - but I can see why you disagree.  PSU has 1 major issue - OL.  If you're in the crowd that OLs get better with age and experience the PSU OL should be better in mid Nov then mid Sept.  And that is their main weakness so if they can (like UM 2014) get from 'well below average" to "meh" by Nov their main weakness is alleviated.  UM of course also will be better (we hope) in Nov than Sept but needs to see similar breakthroughs in multiple position groups.

Thats my take and I understand I am in the minority based on the comments I've seen the prediction threads.  I just think excellent defenses compensate for a lot and PSU has the potential to be excellent yet again.  And a NFL 1st round pick QB is all sorts of issues - we made Nova and Golson look like world beaters, and Hack 2015 - on paper - should be better.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:32 PM ^

Big Drevno fan - a guy I was praying would come over but didnt think would happen because he had just gone to USC the year before.  But it needs to be proven on the field.  Lets hope it does. I also worry about injuries with our OL because with Miller gone if 1 guy goes down you start getting anxious and if 2 go down you start relying on guys with a lot of questions.  

The spring game performance (yes split squads of OL but other teams in the nation were able to run in their spring game with split squads) didnt show me much different than 2014.  Certainly a "show me" story for now.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:57 PM ^

I just reject the methodology of using last year's performance to project this year's.  It seems to me that you are assuming quite a bit of improvement on PSU's OL with less improvement on UM's OL.  Nothing's a sure thing, but I expect UM's OL to improve more that PSU's, especially by the end of the season under Drevno.


August 4th, 2015 at 6:08 PM ^

I expect ours to improve as well.  We just start from a higher level.  Improving on 2013 UM and 2014 PSU is very easy actually.  Hard to go down from those depths.  UM needs to get to 30th nationally as an OL to make big strides vs 2014 - we'll see if they can do that.  It's harder to move from bad to ok, then ok to good.

To a degree I am worried about RBs vision as well - I dont think the OL exploded higher last year from game 7 to game 10 for example but the same holes the Smiths and Hayes could not find Johnson could find. 

Green has his own situation - he got the bulk of his yards vs two abysmal defenses - he averaged like 8 yards per carry vs App State and MAC walkover and then 3.6 vs Big 10 defenses/Utah/ND.  His balance is also not great - first touch tackles are common with Green - when he got massive holes where no one touched him vs App State he looked great. So his total average looks good but his splits show he was dominant vs non P5 teams and subpar v P5 teams.  Behind the same OL that Johnson was able to succeed with.   

Right now Johnson is the only guy I believe can find the hold the OL creates on a consistent basis.  And he will be working his way to 100% health thru fall camp so no guarantees there.  If Johnson is 100% healthy I'd probably rate the run games pretty equal.

PSU's RB got 4.6 yards per carry behind a 2013 UM type line so that's pretty impressive to me actually.


August 5th, 2015 at 12:55 PM ^

"What position groups aside from OL and TE do you think UM is better than PSU at (without maize colored glasses)?"


I appreciate the way you break down by players and position groups.  I'm more into a holisic look at the team.  And Ifis and Sportsfan have provided observations that are close to mine.  PSU and Michigan were about equal last year in my mind.  Switch the schedules, and Michigan goes to a bowl game and Penn St. is sitting at home.  Michigan prevailed head to head, but just barely.  

This year, I just think Michigan has a better chance of greater improvement with the new coaching staff.  Penn St. will probably be marginally better than last year.

Blue In NC

August 5th, 2015 at 4:45 PM ^

Actually I agree with most of your analysis.  Well done.  The area I disagree is where you suggest it would be better for UM if the game was earlier.  Yes, PSU's line may gel later but I feel that with a new QB into the system, and new coordinators (with new pieces to try), a new OL coach and a better head coach, I feel UM will make more improvement from the start of the year to the end.  So yes, PSU will get better but UM will get "more better" as the season progresses.


August 5th, 2015 at 10:55 PM ^

While their DTs may be more established there's no reason the combo of Henry/Wormley/Glasgow/Mone can't be really good and if you look at the matchups I think our OL will handle their DL better than their OL will handle our DL.  Plus we do have a playmaker with moxie and confidence in the backfield now that is big enough and fast enough to cover anyone anywhere.  So hopefully our DL gives them enough trouble up front that Peppers can wreak havoc and the LBs can run free.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:04 PM ^

Penn State was 6-6 (won against a crappy bowl opponent to get 7) last year...why did you say "an almost 10 win team."

You could say they were close to beating Michigan, Maryland and Ohio, but they also barely beat Rutgers and UCF. (Both of which were closer games than their loss to us was)

They were as close to a ten win team as they were to a 4 win team.

Without an immensely easy OOC schedule (ZERO power 5 teams or road games, seriously, likely was the Big Ten's easiest) last year, no way in hell Franklin makes a bowl game in 2014


August 4th, 2015 at 4:18 PM ^

I am not defending their schedule - and not saying they were impressive.  They kept all games but 2 close and when you do that you can pull out a lot of wins where you dont look that impressive.  UM's win over PSU was that way right?  UM's win over Northwestern was that way too.

That defense / schedule opened the door for them to win a lot of games if they did anything on offense.  Again, tied with OSU at end of regulation (could have won that), lost by 5 to UM (could have won that), lost by 2 to Ill (could have won that), lost by 1 to Maryland.

A few breaks and thats a 10 (or close to 10) win season despite a shit offense.  Just like they could also have lost to UCF and rutgers with a few breaks.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:31 PM ^

I agree with what you're saying on a basic level, but I just am anti "this close to X wins", especially if there were more than two close games and you fail to take close wins into account as you did. (they also were lucky to beat Boston College in overtime). And beating Indiana by 7 points isnt a solid win either.

So you have 3.5 lucky wins and 4 unlucky losses, so it's not fair to cast them as almost ten wins when you have about equal good/bad breaks on both sides. And the blowout losses (especially Northwestern) are much more significant than blowout wins (UMass).

It's purely illogical to deem them as such. Just as it was when Hoke did it to 2013 UM.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:39 PM ^

Ok I think directionally we agree.  If you want to go with 8 or 9 wins that is fine. 

What i saw was when PSU lost in 2014 it was almost always close.  (same for many of their wins because their offense was crap).  When I look at UM, I see not only less wins but the losses were by wider margins.  ND, MSU, OSU, Minn all ended up being 2 TD+ losses.  Whereas that was less of an issue for PSU so aside from more wins they were more competitive game to game.   They had 4 losses of 1, 2, 5 pts, and a game tied at end of regulation - our only similar loss was rutgers (by 2)

And I agree they had more cupcakes - we only had 2.  They had 3.  Unless you count Indiana which was a cupcake for both.


August 4th, 2015 at 5:01 PM ^

We beat Indiana by much more than they did and weren't DESTROYED by Northwestern. And, yeah we lost by a lot to Minnesota but I have little doubt UM wouldn't have lost by more than one score, to Illinois.

And playing OSU at home and earlier in the season helps them (besides, our game was still pretty close with OSU until the last 5 min. Not as close as theirs but Both were competitive)) and MSU beat us by identical sorts of games despite us being in EL and PSU getting a home game.

AND WE BEAT THEM HEAD TO HEAD. I will never think someone is logical for saying PSU 2014 > UM 2014. Not saying we were better, but equal is an option. Give that PSU team Utah and ND and take away UMass and UCF and there is a 99.9% chance PSU doesn't get to more than 5 wins last year.


August 6th, 2015 at 9:07 AM ^

The previous 5 times that Penn State had lost to Ohio State (2013, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007), it was the largest loss (in terms of the absolute margin of the game) for Penn State that season.

PSU didn't cover the spread in any of those 5 games either.  Wasn't even close to covering the spread, outside of the 2010 game.

PSU beat OSU in both 2008 and 2011, but PSU was a better team those years.  Not really an upset.


August 6th, 2015 at 12:05 PM ^

Maybe its my perception as an outsider more than reality, but there is some data to suggest there's some truth here.  Doesn't 2014 factor into the last 5 years?  Didn't MSU beat PSU by more than OSU did last year?  Of course it will be the largest margin of loss, OSU is the highest ranked team on their schedule every year.  With the exception of 2008 and 2011, OSU is consistently the higher ranked team, often a top 10 team, and PSU is either unranked or in the high teens or twenties.  Most of the games are won by OSU, but either by comeback wins or by less than 14 points.  Last year an unranked PSU team lost to the eventual national champion Buckeyes by only 31-24.  PSU had a 17 point lead and should have won that game.  In 2012 an unranked PSU team only lost to an undefeated #9 OSU team 35-23.  OSU is more often than not the higher ranked team, yet the all time series is only edged by OSU 16-13.


August 6th, 2015 at 12:49 PM ^

you used the word "typically" ...... not "always." 

Penn State hasn't covered the spread 5 of the 6 times they have lost to Ohio State.  Referencing the spread isn't a perfect metric, but it's a fairly good metric for whether a team performs better/worse than expected in a given game.  The exact numbers and games below:

2013: OSU favored by 15, won by 49.  63-14 game in Columbus.  It was once 63-7.

2012: OSU was only favored by 1, in State College.  Virtual pick 'em.  OSU wins by 12.

2010: OSU favored by 19.5, in Columbus.  OSU wins by 24, but PSU was competitive here, leading 14-3 at the half.  This game PSU did perform pretty well (vs. expectations).  OSU did win the 2nd half by a 35-0 score, they got a couple defensive TDs as McGloin made some mistakes you'd expect from a young walk-on starting at the Horseshoe.

2009: PSU favored by 5.5, in State College.  OSU won 24-7, the game was less competitive than the score shows.

2007: OSU favored by 3, in State College.  Blow-out 37-17 Buckeye win, as Todd freaking Beckman of all people lit up the Nittany Lions.


FWIW, one note on the 2014 game ---- Penn State did not have a 17-point lead, it was Ohio State that had a 17-point lead (17-0 at the half).  PSU got back into it when Barrett threw on 3rd-and-5 early in the 3rd quarter, and Zettel picked it off for a Pick Six.

I've argued over the last several months that Urban Meyer should have gone into "full, 100%, absolute Tressel-Ball mode" in the 2nd half of that game last year.  Young QB, you're up 17, on the road, just run it every single play and if nothing happens, punt.  

Penn State did NOTHING offensively in that game before the final drive.  OSU would have won going away by something like a 24-3 score if Meyer simply runs it on that 3rd down and punts the ball away if the run didn't succeed. 

(e.g., Urban should have made it like JT made the 2007 OSU/U-M game)


August 6th, 2015 at 5:05 PM ^

I don't know, maybe I'm putting too much stock into 2014 and 2012.  Maybe I look at 2 of the last 3 meetings and see an unranked PSU team making a close game agaisnt the #1 and #3 team in the nation.  Maybe hindsight is 20/20 and I have the ability of seeing the team at the end of the year versus who we thought they were when the game actually occured.  But, it seems like in 2 of the last 3 years two very average PSU teams gave two very good OSU teams a good game that they had a chance of winning, when looking at their records and rankings they had no business winning.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:15 PM ^

It also is a bit of a stretch to say they were the Big Ten's best defense last year. They played no teams of merit out of conference, avoided the best Big Ten West offenses and played their only two good offenses (OSU and MSU) with home field advantage.

After all, they let Northwestern score 30 points on them AT HOME...seriously...

I don't think the Big Ten had a clear cut best D last year, PSU was up there, but not number 1


August 4th, 2015 at 4:24 PM ^

Haha I see you hate PSU.

The Big 10 had 3 (count em!) top 50 offenses.  PSU played 2 of them.  Very few teams played all 3.  Most teams in the conf played 2 of them. Only maybe 2-3 teams played all 3.  MSU and OSU also were the only teams with a truly competent QB and PSU played em both.

PSU and Wisconsin had the best advanced stats in the conf on defense.  OSU and MSU were in the next tier.  You saw what OSU did to Wisconsin's D and MSU's D - they didnt do that to PSU.  MSU had the advantage of playing at home and Wisconsin was neutral field.

And PSU had a rush defense built to stop the 3rd best offense in the conference (Wisconsin) who had a converted safety at QB for part of the year.

I think you are reaching.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:35 PM ^

Honestly, I'm very far from hating PSU. They are my third fav big ten team after Michigan and Wisconsin (both parents are Badger alums so I was raised a fan).

I'm just very bothered by the universal media view that PSU is the standalone third best BIG East team and was better than UM last year. We were and are equal in my opinion.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:43 PM ^

Who did you consider having the best defense last year in Big 10?

Going into the Big 10 championship gave I would have said a tie btw Wisconsin and PSU.   I thought MSU's run defense was the normal ferocious self but they gave up too many big pass plays (supported by advanced stats) to be the best and OSU's defense got better later in the year but was not at PSU/Wisc level for the first half of the year but I guess the advanced stats say they were up there with PSU and Wisc too.  So I assume you'll say OSU.  Which I can't argue too much.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:47 PM ^

I honestly don't think there was a clear cut favorite. I would list PSU, UW, MSU, OSU and UM in the same tier. Penn State and Wisconsin may have slightly better stats than the last three, but they also had easier schedules. Comparing on a game by game basis makes it a wash for me.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:12 PM ^

At Happy Valley is tough, especially with them having a bye the week before  However, I think our DL's tremendous advantage over their OL is going to be decisive and our OL should be able to hold its own against their DL.  This game also occurs late in the season, which favors us.  Under Harbaugh's staff, this team will improve a lot as the season progresses.  Michigan also has much better depth than Penn St., especially along both lines.  That often becomes a factor late in the season.  I hope it doesn't happen, but if Penn St. loses one of their better OL to injury, they are going to be hurting.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:28 PM ^

I wouldnt worry that much about PSU losing 1 of their better OL since they - like UM - have a bunch of similar guys.  On the other hand if a guy like Zettel goes out that changes the complexion of the trenches big time.

I disagree on the "depth" advantage UM fans are touting on the lines.  Who is our 6th best OL? 7th?  Guys like Kugler and Dawson? With what experience? 

Our 2 deep on DE is ok but 1 injury and we may be playing a true freshman at DE this year like Shelton Johnson in the 2 deep.

DT is the 1 place we have depth but PSU has decent backup DTs too.

I dont see a major advantage in depth for UM on the lines.


August 4th, 2015 at 4:52 PM ^

PSU doesn't have 5 quality starting OL; losing one makes them even worse than they already are.  

UM has 5 quality starters on OL, perhaps +1 in reserve; depth is an issue, but not so bad

PSU DL will suffer a significant downgrade if they lose an impact player

UM DL has depth and versatility all along the front; I'm not feeling your concern about DEs.  What you are concerned with is a true freshman on the 3 deep at WDE/BUCK.  That seems like normal depth, plus we have versatility at other positions that can cover down if need be.  Ojemudia and Marshall would have to get hurt without a viable DT moving or LB moving over for Johnson to break the starting rotation (unless he's just really good)


August 4th, 2015 at 6:34 PM ^

It is rather difficult to tell what PSU does and does not have on the OL.  They lost LT and LG.  They return 4 guys with 9 to 13 starts.  They bring in a 4 star JUCO for the 5th guy.  Is that an ok unit?  I have no idea.  Does it have depth? No.

If I did this a year ago for UM I would not have counted Jack Miller as a quality  OL guy.  He ended up being 1.  Same for Mason Cole.  Until they play you can't tell nor can you say PSU only has 4 guys.

Our OL is Glasgow, Kalis, Cole, Braden, Magnuson.  Then all question marks. No one else has a single start.  I'd argue neither team has any proven depth.

I still dont see where UM fans tout our "O line depth" vs PSU - both lack it.  Unless people show up this year out of the blue and begin to perform.

As for the defense we can adjust to 3-4 if need be but there is a difference in having to switch to 3-4 80% of the game because you have to if say Wormley or Charlton were hurt vs wanting to play it that much.  If you want to count guys like RJS as "depth" you can - I don't.  I count people who actually have had an impact on a NCAA game.  We have good DT depth and after Charlton, Wormley (I assume he plays DE this year), and Mario O you are talking Marshall and then true freshman as your DEs.  Or RJS.


August 5th, 2015 at 3:36 AM ^

I just think that having Charlton, Wormley, Ojemudia, Marshall, and the capability to shift LB or DT is decent depth.  I realize SDE and WDE aren't exactly interchangeable, but we are talking about the 3-deep when we start moving strongside to weakside or vice-versa.  I'm VERY happy with our DL quality and depth; it is probably the great strength of our team.  It will also allow us to rotate guys and keep them fresh, so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Under Mattison, this group should be the best we've had since 2011, perhaps even better.

Great write up, by the way.  Thanks for the effort.  Can't wait for the season to start!


August 4th, 2015 at 5:23 PM ^

i've never heard such things discussed on our side...the idea of penn state or paterno being granted any favors at all by the B1G is completely foreign.

We're more likely to complain about the conference's conspiracy to fuck us over via officiating against you guys or OSU (cough, two seconds, cough...not that I'm bitter or anything!)


August 4th, 2015 at 5:41 PM ^

Oh yes. That was the same game where...cough, JoePa also argued and got a second put back on the clock in the first half but when Carr did the same thing later in the game, it's a conspiracy...cough.

Also in that game was when, cough, PSU mugged Braylon Edwards on our third TD drive and didn't get flagged for pass interference, cough.

And in overtime when, cough, Zack Mills hiked the ball 2 seconds after the play clock had run out and PSU didn't get called for delay of game which netted a bogus 20 yard gain, cough, cough, cough, cough. Don't play the refs love to f*ck us over game with me.

And I suggest you research your history. Part of luring Penn State into the Big Ten in 1993 was by request of JoePa getting bye weeks specifically before Michigan (which you got every year from 93-96) and Ohio State (which you got in 93 and 94.)

Not that I'm bitter by your delusions or anything!

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August 4th, 2015 at 5:54 PM ^

Indeed. My apologies. Your fan base has stressed from day one that Penn State has never actually lost a game but that the refs intentionally plan ahead to screw them over. And after two decades of crying about the refs and conveniently ignoring all the calls that went your way, the games sort of morph together.


August 4th, 2015 at 6:20 PM ^

No offense my friend in what I am about to say, I realize this is not my board and I am a visitor.

But --- you used the phrases "after two decades of crying" and "conveniently ignoring all the calls that went your way."

Yet of the 2 times I've posted in this thread, you've only responded to me directly once.  You responded to a post where I made a joke, and there was an easy opportunity for you to comment about my school's fans.

Fair enough.  I lobbed the softball, you hit it.  :-)

But no response to the post where I presented facts to counter your comments about bye weeks that occurred "two decades" ago.  And how that has been corrected (as much as possible) in later years.

My apologies if you have responded to that post in the meantime.  


August 4th, 2015 at 5:45 PM ^

while it was wrong for PSU to get bye weeks before the U-M games in the 1993-1996 era, I do think the B1G did make a good-faith effort (perhaps intentionally, perhaps not) to make up for that in latter years.

2001 - Michigan had a bye week before Penn State originally scheduled.  Then the WTC attacks happened, and the Illinois @ U-M got pushed back a week in the massive schedule re-shuffle.  But there was a bye week originally.

2002 - Michigan had a bye week before Penn State.

2008 & 2009 - On 29-April-2005, the NCAA passed legisliation that all regular seasons from 2006 onwards would be 12-game seasons (the 2005 season was the last 11-game regular season).  The B1G schedules through 2010 had already been released at that point.  U-M had bye weeks prior to PSU in those seasons on the original schedule iterations: those October bye weeks would be filled by OOC foes Toledo & Delaware State as U-M scheduled their 12th games.

2010 & 2011 - Michigan had a bye week before PSU in 2010.  On the original schedule iteration for 2011, Michigan had a bye week as well.  However, Nebraska would be invited to the B1G and the entire schedule was re-done.  Michigan & PSU didn't play in 2011.

Anyway, it was 20 years ago, and it looks like there WAS an effort to equal things out.


August 4th, 2015 at 6:27 PM ^

I didn't remember those original schedule issues for 2008 and 2009. I guess when you've stunk up college football during that time, you're concerned with other issues.

I should do better by my screen name. Unfortunately, that means not wiping the last seven years from my brain.

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August 4th, 2015 at 5:13 PM ^

Impressive knowledge and research here -- often when I read an opposing fan previewing PSU, I can find incorrect facts and such -- but none here.  I enjoyed reading this.  Well done.

It's always hard to be unbiased on one's own team, but I think PSU is VERY "under the radar" in 2015.  Very top-notch defense, experience returning on the offensive line (I think the 2014 PSU OL = 2013 UM OL is a perfect analogy, right down to Lewan & Donovan Smith's departures being somewhat over-rated), and teams often show their most improvement in a coach's 2nd year (as opposed to their 1st).  

Time will tell, but I'm expecting pretty good things from the Nittany Lions.  Last August, I wasn't high at all on the 2014 Nittany Lions (I expected 5-7), but I see a lot of upside with this year's bunch.

One downside, and who would have said this 3 years ago after the UVa game --- but PSU will REALLY miss Sam Ficken.  The BC Bowl Game (BC was a lot better win than I think people appreciated, that Eagle team was impressive) was won in actuality on Ficken's extra point, but it's a loss without his clutch 46-yard FG on a bad field to even force overtime.  A solid, clutch kicker is always under-appreciated --- until he's gone, of course.

I'm sure many U-M folk disagree with my assessment of Penn State, but fair enough.  I've been wrong many times before!  Good luck and see you guys on-the-field in November!


August 4th, 2015 at 5:27 PM ^

i thought we'd hit 6-6, 7-5 or so last year...which we sort of did, but it was a LOT uglier than i expected. i think the OL will be marginally better (at least, I really hope so lol), and coupled with an atrocious schedule, we ought to be able to get around 8 wins or so. we shall see.

i have serious reservations about us beating anybody with a pulse though...including you guys. but it's way too far in advance for me to even begin prognosticating that one. i will say that, as much as franklin's been a breath of fresh air in many ways, i'm a little jealous of your coach ;-). i think you guys will be back in the hunt sooner than later.