- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Rejoice, Penn State fans. Here is a post that has nothing to do with scandals or transfers and everything to do with this coming football season. The Nittany Lions are up on our schedule analysis, which is reaching its final days. Let's see what the team will have to deal with on the field this season.
Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Sept. 1: Ohio (10-4)
Sept. 8: at Virginia (8-5)
Sept. 15: Navy (5-7)
Sept. 22: Temple (9-4)
Leaders Division games
Sept. 29: at Illinois
Oct. 27: Ohio State
Nov. 3: at Purdue
Nov. 17: Indiana
Nov. 24: Wisconsin
Oct. 6: Northwestern
Oct. 20: at Iowa
Nov. 10: at Nebraska (protected)
Gut-check game: The Wisconsin and Ohio State games will be big, but the Lions shouldn't have any problems being ready for those games at home. The trip to Nebraska is the toughest road game on the schedule, and the Huskers beat Penn State last year in State College. With the game coming late in the year and with no bowl game to shoot for, Penn State might have trouble matching the intensity of the home team in Lincoln.
Trap game: Openers usually aren't considered as potential trap games, but the Week 1 matchup against Ohio could pose trouble. The Bobcats won 10 games a year ago and have 14 starters back for Frank Solich. While Penn State is usually money in its home openers, the team will be playing its first game under Bill O'Brien, and the offense might have problems finding its footing without Silas Redd, Justin Brown or any other proven offensive playmakers. But we do expect the Nittany Lions to be eager to finally play another football game.
Snoozer: While there are no real marquee nonconference opponents, there is not a snoozer in the bunch as Penn State plays four very solid squads out of the league. The closest thing to a snoozer on the schedule is Indiana, which has lost all 15 meetings with the Nittany Lions. At least Penn State fans hope the latest meeting with the Hoosiers is another snoozer.
Non-con challenge: As we mentioned, none of the four nonconference games are breathers. The Week 2 trip to Virginia looks like the biggest challenge since it's against an ACC team on the road. But don't discount Temple, which has come close the past couple of years to knocking off its in-state big brother.
Telltale stretch: After a bye in the second weekend of October, Penn State will face a four-game stretch that includes trips to Iowa, Purdue and Nebraska, with the only home game in that time a visit from Ohio State. The Nittany Lions have not played well historically in Iowa City and will take on what should be a much improved team in Purdue. Again, with no postseason goal, Penn State will have to battle to keep things together during this difficult four-game stretch.
Analysis: This is the type of schedule that could have helped Penn State win the Leaders Division in a normal year, as top division rivals Ohio State and Wisconsin must come to State College. As it stands, this looks like a demanding slate for a first-year coach who must cope with some personnel losses. Other than the Indiana game, there is not a single game on the schedule that you could confidently predict a blowout -- and remember the Hoosiers played the Nittany Lions to within six points last year in Bloomington. This schedule is going to demand concentration and focus each and every week from a group that has had arguably more distractions than any other school ever. Expect the players to rally around each other and try to play spoiler in the Big Ten, especially when heavy Leaders favorite Wisconsin visits in the finale.
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