July 15, 2010

Thursday Question: Biggest landmine in 2010

Penn State handled Temple last season, but could the Owls be back with vengeance on their minds in 2010? Al Golden's crew might just have enough talent this season to do the unthinkable in Happy Valley. (C. Gardner/Philadelphia Inquirer)
Be sure to vote in the reader poll at the bottom of the post!

In last week's Thursday Question, we asked "Alabama, Iowa, Ohio State--which is the best chance for a Penn State win?" So, naturally this week we're throwing out the logical follow up.

Today's Thursday Question: The other 9 games--which is the best chance for a Penn State loss?


The other 9 games--which is the best chance for a Penn State loss?

After you take away the big three from last week’s question the schedule becomes pretty favorable for the men in blue and white. Minnesota will be a tough game and Michigan State always gives Penn State fits every 3 or 4 years and I wouldn’t count out Temple if Penn State is looking ahead to Iowa but for my money I think the Northwestern game seems a bit scary because…

The game falls between a game against Michigan at home and the looming trip to Columbus, the team could easily lose focus. The wildcats lose Kafka and a couple wide receivers but they return the entire line and the running game should be really good. Their weakness on defense is in the secondary but their front seven will be very good. The entire Wildcats team kind of plays against Penn State’s weaknesses and I think this game will be a tough out even if PSU is playing well. If they are looking ahead to Ohio State, this game could bite them in the ass.


While a quick glance at the schedule would seem to indicate Minnesota as a likely loss candidate because it’s a road game, possible early kickoff, I’ll go with 10/30 Michigan. While I don’t foresee great things from the Wolverines this fall, they could prove to be a thorn for the Nittany Lions. Penn State could be staring at 0-2 in their marquee match-ups to this point in the season and will be at home for an 8p.m. start and high expectations not to disappoint.

While it won’t be their first moment in the spotlight, it will be their first big moment to shine in Beaver Stadium. The youth of this team will need to be able to harness their emotions and keep their wits. Oh yeah, there might also be a 400lbs. gorilla in the room or stadium as it were, also known as Paterno’s potential win #400 on the line.


I try not to look at just one or two factors, but it's tough to ignore the returning starters and where the game will be played. For Penn State in 2010, I'm more worried about an opponent's defense, rather than the offense. Even if the PSU D gives up relatively poor numbers this season (remember, 18 ppg is poor for Scrap's unit), the offense has the bigger risk of an epic collapse in at least one game.

Minnesota and Indiana will be offense-heavy this year, while much weaker on defense. Kent State and YSU are, well, who they are. Illinois is better, but not upset-PSU-better. Temple, sorry Owl fans, will scare the hell out of Penn State fans this year coming in. But I'm just not convinced that Temple can last for four quarters against Penn State in Beaver Stadium. A half? Maybe. But not a full game.

Between Northwestern, Michigan, and Michigan State, all three return about seven offensive starters this fall, but Michigan returns more defensive starters (8) than the other two (6 each). All three games are in Beaver Stadium. Northwestern could be a huge trap game before the trip to Columbus, but Penn State rarely falls into the "looking ahead" situation. Usually, Penn State loses because the other team makes fewer mistakes, or is just better that day.

I'll go with Michigan. The Wolverines were eight points from starting 6-0 last season, and 10 points from finishing 7-5 and bowl eligible. Traditionally, Michigan simply unleashed their start power running back against Penn State, while playing great defense. The running back may not be there in 2010, but the defense might. And the seven returning offensive starters are enough to put more than a few points on the board, even in Beaver Stadium. The 2009 Michigan defense was as solid as quicksand at times, but with eight back, and two recruiting classes of better talent in the system, Michigan could once again become the bane of Happy Valley.


It's going to come down to a team that can shut down the Lions run game, as it seems Paterno will finally pound with Royster for all he's worth. So give me a strong opposing linebacking corps, and I'll give you a Penn State defeat.

Now I have a strong feeling that Penn State will win more than one of the "other nine" games this season, but I'm banking on Michigan State. Book it, Lions are going down to Sparty, and losing the highly coveted Land Grant Trophy, and here's why.

1. Experienced Quarterback-After throwing for 2680 yards 19 touchdowns and 9 interceptions, Kirk Cousins returns for his second year at the helm in East Lansing. He figures to be one of the best passers in the Big Ten this season, and should cause problems for a PSU secondary that has traditionally proven suspect.

2. Greg Jones- I'll give you every other linebacker in the Big 10 this season, and bet you that Greg Jones will outperform every single one of them by season's end. Jones was arguably the best linebacker in the conference a year ago, and now returns for his senior season to even further dominate. The PSU-MSU matchup will feature a game within a game, two of the conference's best at their respective positions. Royster vs Jones. I give the edge to Jones.

3. "Home Field Advantage"- Talk about a double edged sword. Paterno complained about the season ending too early. Well Joe, you got your wish. The Lions will end their season one week later than normal. The bad news? That last game just happens to be the Saturday of Thanksgiving break. You think the student section was empty at times last year? This is going to be ugly, VERY ugly. While yours truly will make sure to cut his Thanksgiving break short, and make the trek up to State College on Black Friday, I'm not too sure many others will be joining me.

So those are the three reasons why I choose Michigan State as the most likely to knock off the Lions. But I wouldn't be surprised if they are alone. Don't look past any team on the schedule, particularly Temple and Michigan. Both teams return a lot of talent, and have proven their worth on the field.


If forced to at gunpoint, I would predict an 8-4 regular season. This would include the three games we're universally expected to lose (Alabama, Iowa, Ohio State) plus dropping a game we otherwise shouldn't due to our inexperience at QB. As to which game that would be, I think it's best if we use a little process of elimination to whittle down the candidates.

Thanks For Playing: Youngstown State, Kent State

Not Good, As In One in a Million (So, You're Telling Me There's a Chance?): Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Temple, Michigan

Hindsight Is 20/20: Northwestern, Michigan State

Before any Temple fans start flaming me in the comments section below and start thumping their chests about leading UCLA going into the 4th quarter of last year's EagleBank Bowl: UCLA is a mediocre at best Pac-10 program that is struggling to get into the upper echelon of the conference under Rick Neuheisel. The level of talent on that team pales in comparison to what Temple will be facing when they come to Happy Valley in late September.

It comes down to Northwestern. Over the past decade, they have consistently been a thorn in our side (save for 2002 and 2006 when we absolutely manhandled them): The Wildcats landed back-to-back wins during the Dark Years and had their defense been able to hold on, would've also beaten us in 2001 and 2005. Last year's game was a tight one as well, it was tied at 13 going into the 4th quarter before PSU decided to take off their Halloween costumes and actually play to their capabilities, scoring 3 TD's in less than 4 minutes to put the game out of reach. I also cringe to think about how that game would've ended had Mike Kafka not gotten his leg swept or if Mr. Miyagi could've given him a leg massage, PSU's defense seemed powerless to stop him. You could just see the air slowly deflating out of Northwestern's victory parade balloons once Dan Persa was forced into QB duties.

Perhaps it's the fact that that it's sandwiched in between a primetime showdown with Michigan and a road trip to Ohio State. Perhaps it's just because they almost always give us a good fight but this game scares me the most, without a doubt. I hope I am wrong on my prediction, but it wouldn't shock me if we were to drop the Northwestern game...

These are my incoherent thoughts that I typed up as an 8 AM zombie, and I'm sticking to them.

Which is the biggest landmine for Penn State?

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