It's August. And according to ESPN, Sports Illustrated, sports magazines, sports shows, and pretty much 97 percent of the country, football season has begun.
True. We're weeks away from any games that mean anything. But people have already started talking. Sportscenter is finding any excuse to show football highlights and downplay baseball, which is currently dragging into its "dog days of summer." Reporters are talking about "who is going where" and "this team will need this to win." College football writers are making preseason lists, rankings, and predictions. So, weeks before summer practice even starts—the football season is here.
That means it's time for the 2nd annual "Under the Moon Over Happy Valley" predictions for the 2010 Penn State Football team. Last year I predicted 9-3 with a Capital One Bowl appearance. The Lions went 10-2 and beat LSU in the Capital One Bowl. Not bad. My concerns last year were replacing the receivers and secondary. This year, it's the quarterback, linebackers, and special teams. Overall, this season is far more unpredictable than last.
Aside from the annual patsies, it's a fairly difficult schedule with road games against the three toughest teams. Can the next first-year QB stir up some Penn State magic a la Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark? Let's find out…
9/5 – Youngstown State – W 39-3
In the land of embarrassing Div-IA schools, the Penguins aren't too bad (Enjoy it, because Indiana State is next year). Aside from the standard late game score, the Lions will have no problem tackling YSU. The best thing that can happen in this game is to see all four QBs get some playing time—especially Paul Jones.
9/11 – @ Alabama – L 19-25
None of the more recent first-year QBs have seen a test like this in their first road game, except for Anthony Morelli versus Notre Dame (and we remember how that turned out). I give credit to the fans predicting a win here. They're optimistic. The Lions shouldn't have trouble on defense, but offensively they'll need something special to get over the hump.
9/18 – Kent State – W 45-0
Barring any gruesome outcome versus Bama, Kent State should provide a nice rebound game for the Nits. I always like to check out the attendance at games like this. Look for the student section to be half full by the second quarter and never completely fill.
9/25 – Temple – W 42-12
Some people are seeing the Owls' resurgence as a warning sign. Could this be the year the little brother takes down the big brother? Highly doubtful. Keep in mind that Penn State has beaten Temple a combined 154-9 over the past four years. True, the team is on its way up, but their biggest accomplishment this game will be breaking double digits.
10/2 – @ Iowa – W 17-16
Cue the death march. Depending on Iowa's season up to this point, Penn State will most likely be the underdog. I don't think Iowa is our new Michigan. True, Ferentz is 7-2 versus Paterno. And true, Iowa has a knack for making their wins against us exceptionally painful—just like old Michigan teams. But I think the Lions can get it done here, play big when they are not favored, and take home a big road win.
10/9 – Illinois – W 29-10
There was a time when it looked like Illinois would be next on deck to give Penn State fits. Unfortunately for them, they haven't been able to consistently do much of anything. This season they are breaking in a new QB, which doesn't mean much looking back at the up and down career of 4-year starter Juice Williams.
10/23 – @ Minnesota – W 30-3
The shutout of Minnesota last year was my favorite game in 09. Homecoming, unseasonal snowfall, and a goal line stand anchored by an awesome stop by AJ Wallace and Navarro Bowman made it a classic. Minny is another team who is seemingly always on the rise, but always seems to crash at the wrong times. The Lions shouldn't have any trouble in the newest Big Ten stadium, and hopefully the team is gelling to the max at this point in the season.
10/30 – Michigan – W 24-10
One could easily assume that UM will finally turn it around this year. If true, this game could be scary. However, the tables have turned since the days of Michigan dominance versus Penn State, and even an improved Wolverines team won't be able to take down Penn State at home. Keep in mind that this is really the only somewhat interesting home game this season, and Penn State Athletics did not make it a "White House" game. Bulletin board fodder for UM? I think so.
11/6 – Northwestern – W 31-24
The Wildcats. Another team who seems to be constantly improving, but rarely makes serious moves. I think that changes this year and the Cats give Penn State a scare, but not enough to knock them out. I pray to the heavens that by this time in the season, the "young" Lions are hitting at all cylinders, injury free, and ready for…
11/13 – @ Ohio State – L 12-27
It seems to me that when Penn State is able to knockoff OSU, it's a nail biter. But when it's OSU on the winning end, it's a blowout (1994 excluded). Perusing the sports news these days, OSU is the only Big Ten team that is predicted to make any waves nationally. They have a Heisman Trophy candidate and, as always, are a legitimate national title contender. They could very well be #1 coming into this game, which is downright frightening. After last year's debacle in front of the "White House," it's hard to pick the Nits. I hope I'm wrong.
11/20 – Indiana (@ Washington DC) – W 39-3
Each time Penn State plays Indiana, I envision JoePa's pregame speech saying: "Look, even the worst teams in Penn State history beat Indiana. Don't mess it up today." Unlike Minny and Northwestern, Indiana is never expected to be good. Add what is going to be a home-game atmosphere to the mix, and it should be Nittany Lion dominance.
11/27 – Michigan State – 27-17
This was one of the games I predicted incorrectly last year. I envisioned a struggling Penn State team limping to the finish line. I referenced 1999, 2003, and 2006 and said that underachieving Penn State teams often go to East Lansing to die. Although this game is a home game, I think it'll be close. The team should be gelled at this point. However, if my season predictions are wrong and the Lions drop one or two more, this could be a bloodbath.
So, the more things change…the more they stay the same. 10-2. Losses at Alabama and Ohio State. Nothing too groundbreaking, except for a big road win against arch nemesis Iowa. Depending on what other B10 teams do, 10-2 can very easily get the team into a BCS Bowl. Depending on what Ohio State does, that BCS Bowl could be the Rose Bowl. Most likely, it'll be a return trip to the Capital One Bowl. Fingers crossed that it doesn't rain as much this year. GO LIONS!