We’re now just a week away from Penn State’s season opener against Akron — so that means this week is the season for predictions.
Will the Nittany Lions earn a berth in the College Football Playoff? Can they go undefeated? Or did last season simply raise the expectations too high?
Here’s what our staff had to say about their season predictions:
John McGonigal: 11-1
My gut feeling at the start of spring camp was 11-1, and even though my mind swayed between that and 10-2 throughout the summer, I’m sticking with it. The only game I see the Nittany Lions losing this year is their road trip to Ohio State on Oct. 28. Despite facing Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State in consecutive weeks, Penn State’s schedule is reasonable, ranking No. 60 in difficulty according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Nittany Lion offense — heading into Joe Moorhead’s second season — is going to be too prolific to lose on the road at Iowa and Northwestern, or fall to a Michigan team that has to replace 10 defensive starters. I’m not saying there won’t be tough games; Penn State will be in some nail-biters, for sure. But with Trace McSorley more comfortable in Moorhead’s scheme, Saquon Barkley poised to contribute even more in the passing game and the O-line improved, Penn State is looking at another 11-win campaign.
Josh Moyer: 10-2
I think we all already know the one loss I’m projecting: Oct. 28 at Ohio State. The Buckeyes may be losing a lot of firepower but, over the last five years, no program has been better at home. Urban Meyer’s squad is 34-2 over that time, just slightly better than Alabama’s 33-2 mark. As far as that other loss: With road games at Iowa and Northwestern, and tough contests against Michigan and Nebraska, I think a 3-1 outcome is the most likely there. It’s obvious this is a more talented team than last season, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised with a berth in the College Football Playoff. But the odds are against it. A 10-2 finish is the most likely.
Gordon Brunskill: 9-3
Last season was a pretty fun ride to watch, but I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon fully for this team just yet. There are still too many questions to be answered, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Is there enough experience and depth on that unit? Plus, the Nittany Lions won’t have a schedule as advantageous as last year. October is going to be rough with Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State back-to-back-to-back. And having to go to Evanston, Iowa City and Columbus — three places usually difficult for Penn State — also adds to the degree of difficulty. The Buckeyes will be looking to prove a lot after losing to PSU last year, and the Spartans won’t be as far off as last year. But I am looking forward to seeing what this offense can do this year now that they have been together another whole year with Moorhead.
Ryne Gery: 11-1
The Nittany Lions won’t have any trouble scoring with McSorley and Barkley leading the way. Coming off rushing for nearly 1,500 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016, Barkley should have an even bigger year and remain in the Heisman discussion all season. Barkley and the team’s high-scoring attack will prove to be the difference in most games. Penn State will face a challenging stretch on its schedule in October, but the Nittany Lions have a bye week to prepare for the Wolverines. They’ll find a way to win that game at home before falling to the Buckeyes on the road. It’s hard to see Northwestern knocking off Penn State again after the Wildcats won their previous two meetings in 2014 and 2015, and the Nittany Lions should take care of the rest of their Big Ten games.
Nate Cobler: 11-1
The Nittany Lions have one of the toughest stretches in the country starting Oct. 21 hosting Michigan and then traveling to Ohio State and Michigan State. They won’t make it out of Columbus with a perfect record. If they do, look for a spot in the College Football Playoff.