In my countdown from the easiest game (#12) to the most difficult (#1), here is where we stand so far:
12. Eastern Illinois
8. INDIANA . . .
With the out of conference schedule such as it is, we have only Big Ten games left. It should be no surprise that Indiana is the easiest of those games since most projections have them finishing last or near last in the conference. In fact, the real argument here might be whether Akron or Temple will be a tougher opponent, but does that positioning really matter in the great grand scheme of things?
Indiana has never beaten Penn State on the football field. They came within a goal line stand in 2004 but came up short, a game that many point to as the "turn-around" for Penn State football in this decade. So the Hoosiers have got that going for them.
Indiana will come to Beaver Stadium on November 14, after facing Iowa and Wisconsin the previous weeks. They won't likely be looking ahead to Purdue. The Lions could be caught looking ahead to the Spartans, and will be coming off a big game with the Buckeyes. Schedule wise, the differences are a wash.
The Hoosiers return 18 starters from a team that finished last in the conference. QB Kellen Lewis was actually slated to shift to WR, but ended up being dismissed from the team in April for violating team rules. They also lost leading rusher Marcus Thigpen. As the next to last game of the year, their new quarterback will have had plenty of experience--maybe some bad experiences--but it will be his first time in Beaver Stadium.
I just don't see this team pulling an Iowa-type upset. Coach Bill Lynch, in his third year, has his work cut out for him.
I quite frankly don't know where to put this Gopher team. I still remember vividly the 1999 homecoming game where the Gophers spoiled a perfect season--a game which many feel was the start of Penn State's slide that bottomed out in 2003-4.
But Glenn "let's open the half with a successful onsides kick" Mason isn't on the sidelines anymore. Minnesota went 7-6 last year with a lopsided loss to Kansas in the Insight Bowl. Penn State has not faced the gophers in two seasons when they rotated off the schedule.
Minnesota opens their season at Syracuse, so a common opponent will help us gauge this match-up a little better beforehand. The Gophers will be coming off games against Wisconsin and Purdue before coming to Happy Valley, and have another road trip to Columbus looming on the horizon. Penn State will be coming off a road trip to Illinois and a scrimmage (functional BYE WEEK) against Eastern Illinois, and as I said, the game will be played in front of a homecoming crowd. Caution must be used not to be thinking ahead to a road trip to Ann Arbor the following week. Unlike Indiana, Minnesota is able to win some games. They also have an un-Minnesota like OOC game with Cal.
I know it's unfair to criticize their schedule when our own is laughable this year, but the last few years have seen the gophers scheduling ridiculous OOC games (they have South Dakota State late in the season) which they ride into conference play undefeated. They lost their last 5 games last year after opening at 7-1.
The Gophers had trouble with their ground game last season, but sport a capable passer in Adam Weber, who had an accuracy of 62%, threw for 2,761 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has veteran receivers to throw to, which is a concern for our secondary. The line will be bolstered by Notre Dame transfer Carufel and junior college transfer Wills. I think our defense will be settled in at this point, but then I never expected USC to light up the scoreboard against us last year either. The Gopher staff will have new offensive and defensive coordinators running the show, so that presents an unknown quantity.
I don't expect a 2005 result, but I would not be surprised if we didn't control this game. However, the Gophers have 18 starters returning and they likely will improve. This game could be close enough to cause the Lion faithful palpitations. I still think we win at home.