WHEN: 8:30 a.m. Saturday
WHERE: Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland
SERIES: Penn State leads, 2-1
LAST MEETING: UCF won 34-31 at Beaver Stadium (Sept. 14, 2013)
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COACHES: UCF — George O’Leary, 11th season, 72-56 (124-89 overall); Penn State — James Franklin, first season, 24-15 overall
TELEVISION: ESPN2 (commentators: )
RADIO: WQWK 1450, WBUS 93.7 (announcers: Steve Jones, Jack Ham)
THE SKINNY: Once anticipated as the O’Coaches Bowl, only UCF’s George O’Leary will be on the sidelines for this one as Bill O’Brien left Penn State for the NFL in January. A talented pair of UCF players — quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson — are also gone to the NFL. But UCF has plenty of pieces back from its 12-1 team a year ago. How good were the Knights last year? Their only loss came by three points to a strong South Carolina team. UCF averaged 35 points per game and had the 25th-ranked passing attack led by Bortles. Penn State was inconsistent last season and didn’t win back-to-back games after the first two weeks of the season. The Nittany Lions ended 2013 on a high note, however with a win over heavily favored Wisconsin in which then-true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg played his best game. The Nittany Lions have a whole knew coaching staff and have seen a surge of energy ripple through their ranks with Franklin’s dynamic, high-voltage coaching style. As always, season openers are tough to predict and this one being across the Atlantic is no different.
UCF PLAYER TO WATCH: Penn State couldn’t stop Bortles last season as the grizzled veteran tossed for 288 yards and three touchdowns while completing 74 percent of his passes. Now, the Nittany Lions get a rookie quarterback to start the season in redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo who will make his first start. Unless DiNovo can come close to replicating Bortles’ production, it could be a long day for the redshirt freshman who’ll face a deep, experienced Penn State defensive line and a veteran secondary eager to erase bad memories from last season.
PENN STATE PLAYER TO WATCH: Running back Zach Zwinak may have to open holes for himself if Penn State’s inexperienced offensive line is slow out of the gate. He’ll be lining up between four new starters and his heavy-handed running style should come in handy in this one.
KEY MATCHUP: With a young receiving corps to work with, expect Christian Hackenberg to look for familiar targets in his deep, experienced tight end group. Kyle Carter has plenty of speed and arguably the best hands on the team. It’ll be up to UCF’s athletic group of linebackers to keep Carter and teammate Jesse James on lockdown. Carter, James and Adam Breneman, combined for eight catches for 75 yards against UCF last season but couldn’t get in the end zone.