Penn State Football

Ranking all of Penn State’s 2018 games, from best to worst

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions have an interesting schedule this season with division crossover games including Iowa and Wisconsin.
James Franklin and the Nittany Lions have an interesting schedule this season with division crossover games including Iowa and Wisconsin.

We’re now just a little more than a month away from the college football season.

That opening kickoff can’t come soon enough. But, in the meantime, we thought we’d try to make the time pass by a little quicker by taking a look at Penn State’s 2018 football schedule — and ranking the games from the best to the worst.

The season will be here before you know it. And these are the games, listed at the top, that we’re most looking forward to — and, listed at the bottom, most looking forward to sleeping through:

1. vs. Ohio State (Sept. 29), Time TBA

To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. And, since Urban Meyer took over in 2012, the Buckeyes have been ranked in the top 10 of at least one major poll at the end of every season. If the Nittany Lions want to earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game, then they almost certainly have to beat Ohio State.

2. vs. Wisconsin (Nov. 10), Time TBA

Ranked ahead of Michigan? Let me explain. This game is taking place the week after Penn State’s stop in Ann Arbor so, as long as the Nittany Lions can at least split with Ohio State-Michigan, this matchup is going to bursting with Big Ten title implications for both divisions. After this contest, Penn State will play Rutgers and Maryland while Wisconsin will face Purdue and Minnesota. This game should prove incredibly meaningful.

3. at Michigan (Nov. 3), Time TBA

See: Ohio State. The Big Ten East is a brutal division, and Penn State hasn’t come away with a win in the Big House since 2009. The Wolverines are a wild card this year — isn’t that always the case with Jim Harbaugh? — and may not have a designated offensive coordinator this season. The Nittany Lions would love to see a repeat of 2017.

4. vs. Michigan State (Oct. 13), 3:30/4 p.m.

2016 looks more like an aberration now than the sign of a downturn. The Spartans have won at least 10 games in four of the last five seasons, and they’ll likely return to their previous role in the conference: A great team that borders on elite and challenges for the Big Ten title. If the offense can take some strides forward, this team still has the potential to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

5. at Pitt (Sept. 8), 8 p.m., ABC

This is a rivalry game — yes, they’re rivals; deal with it — that’s hard not to like. Sure, SB Nation may be projecting a two-touchdown win for the Nittany Lions, but it’s hard to rank a night game loaded with history any lower than this. Things didn’t go well the last time Penn State stepped onto Heinz Field, and you can bet players will want to leave the unofficial capital of western Pennsylvania with a statement win.

6. vs. Iowa (Oct. 27), Time TBA

Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes have long been the poster children for Big Ten mediocrity. For 10 of the last 13 seasons, they’ve won between six and nine games. But there’s hope this season that the Hawkeyes will be above average to good, with quarterback Nate Stanley and most of his top targets returning. Regardless, Iowa always brings it against the Big Ten’s best — as evidenced by last year’s shocking upset over Ohio State and heartbreaking loss against Penn State ... during an 8-5 season.

7. vs. Maryland (Nov. 24), Time TBA

The good news for the Terps: Their two young, talented QBs are both back from season-ending injuries. The bad news: OC Walt Bell left for Florida State. Maryland will contend for a bowl berth, and that could come down to this, the final week of the regular season. Both teams should have something to play for; Penn State fans should not look past Maryland.

8. at Indiana (Oct. 20), Time TBA, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2

Without Kevin Wilson, the Hoosiers’ offense was absolutely terrible last year. Thankfully, however, with Tom Allen, IU’s defense was spectacular. This season, the offense should be a little better (improved OL, better passing game) while the defense should be a little worse (linebacker depth). Either way, that still translates to Penn State being a big favorite.

9. at Rutgers (Nov. 17), Time TBA

It feels wrong to have Rutgers ranked this high. But the fact is Penn State has several cupcakes on the schedule, so let’s just acknowledge there’s a big drop-off after No. 8 on this list. Rutgers is a MAC team masquerading as a Big Ten opponent; over the last three seasons, it has lost to the Big Ten East’s top four teams by an average margin of 46-6.

10. vs. Appalachian State (Sept. 1), 3:30 p.m., BTN

Appalachian State should once again contend for the Sun Belt championship, but most rankings project them no better than the 70th-best team in the nation. (Yes, that might be better than Rutgers.) The defense has to reload after losing most of its starters, and the offense must replace four-year QB starter Taylor Lamb. A Week 1 matchup against Penn State is not ideal.

11. at Illinois (Sept. 21), 9 p.m., FS1

Say hello to the worst team in the conference. There is very little to look forward to in this game, outside of Lovie Smith’s beard and watching Penn State players juice their stats. Smith is the most overpaid coach in the country; he has a $3 million salary, and no coach still on contract won less last season while making more. To make matters worse, this game is on a Friday night — which irks James Franklin and is sure to annoy fans of high school football.

12. vs. Kent State (Sept. 15), noon, FS1

There’s no nice way to say this: Kent State is one of the worst teams in the country. Vegas put the over/under of this team’s wins at 2.5 this season — and most everyone is betting on the under. There is a new head coach in Sean Lewis, who has recruited well, but he’s no miracle-worker. This is the most lopsided game, talent-wise, on the schedule.

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