The Penn State Nittany Lions are coming off a 7-6 campaign in 2015. While it was the same record they ended up with in 2014, they did improve from 2-6 to 4-4 in Big Ten play.
One of the big downfalls of last year is Penn State was just 1-5 away from home. The only win coming in a neutral site contest against Maryland. A game they barely squeaked out 31-30. To their credit, all 5 losses were against quality opponents. Those being Temple, Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan State and Georgia (bowl game).
Going into the 2016 season, the Nittany Lions are a legit sleeper team in the Big Ten East. They are entering their 3rd year under head coach James Franklin. This is the time when new head coaches are suppose to see results. However, it won’t be easy playing in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.
Big Ten (East)
|Date||Opponent||Spread (Est.)||Win Chance|
|Estimated Wins: TBD|
*We take the win chance by using the college football win percentage chart for each point spread.
The Nittany Lions will get all 3 non-conference games out of the way before starting Big Ten play. All come against FBS foes. The open with what should be an easy game at home against Kent State. They then have two difficult matchups. First they go on the road to face Pittsburgh, followed by a home game against Temple.
Penn State will know where it stands right away in the Big Ten. They open up conference action at the Big House against Michigan. A team they lost to at home last year 16-28.
After two winnable home games against Minnesota and Maryland, they host Ohio State. This is a critical game for the Nittany Lions and they catch a break with a bye week before it.
Three of the next four are on the road. All against teams they are capable of beating in Indiana, Purdue and Rutgers. The lone home game is against Iowa, the reigning West champs. Penn State then concludes the year with a home game against Michigan State.
Overall it’s a pretty favorable schedule. They get two of the East powers at home in Ohio State and Michigan State. They also draw two of the weaker teams out of the West in Purdue and Minnesota.
Last year the Nittany Lions offense was a major disappointment. So much was expected of this team with Christian Hackenberg back at quarterback. They just were never able to get it going.
Poor offensive line play and an offense geared more to a mobile quarterback were both to blame. That’s why there’s optimism surrounding the offense in 2016. Penn State will either go with sophomore Trace McSorely or red-shirt freshman Tommy Stevens.
Most believe McSorely has the edge. He definitely will provide more mobility at 6-0 ft and a mere 196 lbs. Either way the numbers should improve with McSorely or Stevens under center.
The offensive line should also go from a weakness to a strength. Penn State has 4 starters back and will add in highly touted red-shirt freshman Ryan Bates. The career starts climb to 91 from 51 last year.
Improved quarterback play should also spark improvement in the ground game. That’s scary for opposing teams, as they have a stud in the backfield in sophomore Saquon Barkley. He had 1,076 yards and 7 touchdowns as true freshman last year. Barkley will be joined by talented true freshman Miles Sanders.
The Nittany Lions also get back all 3 starters at wide receiver. The top threat is without question junior Chris Godwin. He had 69 catches for 1,101 yards and 5 scores. You also can’t ignore fellow junior DaeSean Hamilton.
While the offense has struggled to find it’s way in Franklin’s first two years, the defense has remained a strength. Penn State had a bit of a down year in 2015 and still only gave up 21.8 ppg and 324 ypg.
Maintaining that edge on the defensive side of the ball won’t be easy. Penn State only returns 5 starters from last year and the biggest losses come up front.
They have to replace All-American defensive end Carl Nassib (15.5 sacks). As well as their dominant tackle due of Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel. All three were taken in the draft, with Nassib and Johnson going in the first two rounds.
The lone starter back on the defensive line is junior defensive end Garrett Sickles. They desperately need Sickles to take that next step and be a dominating force. This unit is a major question mark going into 2016. If it struggles, it will have a negative impact on the rest of the defense.
One reason to be optimistic, is the Nittany Lions are loaded with talent at linebacker. They get back starting outside backers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell. Taking over in the middle will be senior Nyeem Wartman-White. Keep in mind he was the starter before suffering a season-ending injury in the opener last year.
The secondary also figures to be a strength this season. Penn State returns one of the league’s top safeties in junior Marcus Allen. They also get back starting corner Grant Haley. Though most of the hype is on sophomore corner John Reid and his move into the starting lineup.
Regular Season Win Total
Big Ten East Odds
Big Ten Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Odds Courtesy of 5Dimes
*Odds updated live on our college football odds page
Given the questions at quarterback and the losses on defense, I can see why some are down on Penn State this year. However, I think they are flying under the radar.
I think they easily top their win total of 7 and put up a much better record in the Big Ten than most are expecting. I have the Nittany Lions going 6-3 in Big Ten play and 9-3 overall.
One of the key factors for me is the schedule. The majority of their tough games are at home, where they are 54-17 the last 10 years. It’s just a matter if they can take care of business on the road against some of the weaker teams. I believe they can.
Big Ten (East)
Big Ten Record
Win Total Prediction