Penn State Nittany Lions football preview 2013: Best case, worst case, prediction

Photo:  Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

A lot of Penn State’s success during the 2013 season will hinge on the quarterback position. Last season this was a strenght and they shook off the 0-2 start to finish 8-4, but with Matt McGloin’s graduation, there is a vacuum at the most important spot on the field. Whoever steps up, though, will have plenty of weapons, including the league’s best wideout in Allen Robinson and a solid running back in Zach Zwinak.

Defensively, plenty of playmakers are back, including Deion Barnes, who had six sacks a season ago. Of course, with the sanctions, depth will be an issue if the injury bug finds its way to State College.

2013 Schedule

Syracuse: 8-5 (5-2) – Big East

Best Case: With the game at a neutral site and PSU still barred from a bowl, is this their bowl game? If so, they get an easy line-up. 1-0

Worst Case: With the departures they had in the offseason, Syracuse has as many questions, if not more — one of which was their head coach. 1-0

Prediction: This could be a long season for the Orange based on the departures and a tougher schedule than last year. PSU will be obliged to demonstrate that fact opening day. W: 24-13, 1-0

Eastern Michigan: 2-10 (1-7) – MAC

Best Case: EMU continues to struggle for consistancy. Ron English had a good run as an assistant at Michigan, and I thought he would be wonderful in Ypsalanti, but after 2011’s six-win season it was back to the same old same for the Eagles. 2-0

Worst Case: Barring injuries, it’s tough to see EMU being much more than a speed bump for the Lions. 2-0

Prediction: The 115th ranked points per game defense of a year ago opens up the floodgates for Zwinnie the Pooh and Robinson. I’ve just received word from the PSU athletic department to never refer to him as Zwinnie the Pooh again. W: 42-14, 2-0

Central Florida: 10-4 (7-1) – C-USA

Best Case: UCF is an interesting team. They return several key pieces from last year’s team, including Blake Bortles, who is one of the best-kept secrets at quarterback. I think they’ll hold their own in the zombie Big East, but they lost by two touchdowns at Ohio State a year ago. Could be more of the same with PSU this year. 3-0

Worst Case: Penn State’s offense still hasn’t found the rhythm and UCF pulls off a big upset as they join an AQ league for one season. 2-1

Prediction: I do think the Knights will keep it close, but this looks like a pretty tall order to win on the road against a solid team in a venue as crazy as Beaver Stadium. W: 24-14, 3-0

Kent State: 11-3 (8-0) – MAC

Best Case: The Flashes were close to a BCS bowl, but Purdue poached their coach and their quarterback graduated. Even with their run-first attack, you still want to have a competent signal caller out there to audible and direct the offense. 4-0

Worst Case: Dri Archer and Trayion Durham are back. Why do we care? They each rushed for over 1,300 yards and combined for 30 rushing TDs. Archer, the more electric of the two, had an eye-popping 9.0 ypg average a year ago. Kent State will be an annoying matchup for anybody and league mate Ohio did pull off the upset in Happy Valley a year ago. 2-2

Prediction: Like UCF, this game will be much closer than the average fan expects. Dri Archer is worth the price of admission and if he has any sort of Heisman campaign, this will be his coming out party. Still, I like PSU’s greater athleticism, power and size against the fleet-of-foot MAC team. W: 28-21, 4-0

At Indiana: 4-8 (2-6) – Big Ten

Best Case: PSU comes in as a confident bunch having survived two under-the-radar, albeit difficult, opponents. 5-0

Worst Case: Penn State rolled to a 45-22 victory a year ago. Was Matt McGloin worth 23 points? I know he was good and all, but still. 3-2

Prediction: Penn State will be a difficult team to dispatch on a Saturday afternoon for the big dogs of the league. I don’t like Indy to get this win even with their improvements as a program. W: 31-13, 5-0 (1-0)

Michigan: 8-5 (6-2) – Big Ten

Best Case: This is Michigan’s first road trip of the year, unless you want to count the Connecticut game (which I don’t). The Wolverines’ rebuilt line in front of Gardner could struggle with the stadium noise. 6-0

Worst Case: Michigan scores a huge road win as they make a mid season statement to the rest of the league. 3-3

Prediction: In a heartbreaking loss, Penn State learns how to finish strong, something that will come into play in late November when they knock off then-unbeaten Nebraska. L: 24-21, 5-1 (1-1)

At Ohio State: 12-0 (8-0) – Big Ten

Best Case: These two teams return a lot of the same faces and the Bucks had no problems winning in Happy Valley a year ago. I think the undefeated run ends in the Shoe. 6-1

Worst Case: PSU’s offense simply never comes around due to poor quarterbacking. 3-4

Prediction: PSU plays well enough on the road to win, but a few penalties and a turnover or two is enough to prevent them from getting the job done. L: 28-21, 5-2 (1-2)

Illinois: 2-10 (0-8) – Big Ten

Best Case: Penn State smoked the Illini last season by 28 points. PSU bounces back from the tight road loss with a huge home win. 7-1

Worst Case: PSU rights the ship against Illinois, but it is a little too close for comfort. 4-4

Prediction: One of the best home crowds, a strong rushing game, Allen Robinson flying all over the place and an advantage in the coaching matchup. PSU coasts. W: 35-14, 6-2 (2-2)

At Minnesota: 6-7 (2-6)

Best Case: Despite not being eligible for Indy, PSU keeps the heat on the Bucks by notching a road victory at the Bank. 8-1

Worst Case: Minne is my pick for biggest step back team in the league this year. Well, them and Purdue, but the Boilermakers have a new coach so it wouldn’t be as big of a surprise. Either way it adds up to a Penn State win. 5-4

Prediction: Minnesota barely cracked the top 100 in scoring last year. I like the Nittany Lion defense to push the team to victory in this one. W: 21-10, 7-2 (3-2)

Purdue: 6-7 (3-5)

Best Case: This one was over early in West Lafayette a year ago. Cue that roaring sound effect. 9-1

Worst Case: After the slump and dipping below .500, Bill O’Brien has the team clicking against the cupcakes. 6-4

Prediction: It is poetic that PSU gets my two “step back” teams in back-to-back weeks, right? Or is that irony? A coincidence, perhaps. Regardless of the literary term, it adds up to another Penn State victory. W: 31-13, 8-2 (4-2)

Nebraska: 10-4 (7-1) – Big Ten

Best Case: The Huskers come in on a losing skid and the Big Ten office gets very worried about another title game featuring a fake Leaders Division champ. 10-1

Worst Case: Nebraska comes in with the league’s best offense and a legit Heisman contender. While the defense keeps them in it for the majority of the game, PSU just can’t score enough to ever close the gap and make it interesting. 6-5

Prediction: I think PSU will be a work in progress just like they were last year. The team in Week 13 barely resembled the team in Week 1. Similar story here too. PSU will grow from their setbacks and will be poised to stun Nebraska in a primetime game in the league’s best night-game environment. The first marquee win of the O’Brien era (I don’t count last year’s OT victory against Wisconsin) over a top 10 and undefeated Nebraska team. W: 21-17, 9-2 (5-2)

At Wisconsin: 8-6 (4-4) – Big Ten

Best Case: The biggest eff-you possible to the NCAA and league office is complete as Penn State’s stumble against OSU is negated by the Bucks losing 2+ games and giving the division crown to the Lions. 11-1

Worst Case: Penn State drops a tough road game in a blizzardy Madison to wrap up the season at .500 exactly. Not bad, but not what they were expecting. 6-6

Prediction: Much like this very PSU team, I think Wisconsin will be a work in progress over the year. Wisconsin holds homeserve in another tight game between these two; perhaps even another overtime affair. I think these are the two most evenly matched teams in the league and it is fitting that this will be the finale for both. In such a tight game I’ll give the edge to the ol’ Alma Mater thanks to some Jump Around magic. L: 27-24, 9-3 (5-3)

Final Thoughts

Simple formula: Serviceable to decent (or better) QB play and Penn State will win a lot of games this year. If that position is a hole for them, they will struggle to put points up. Of course, the best laid plans can get derailed by injury, especially if you are working with a smaller roster thanks to the worst run organization in the US, but that is a story for another day my friends.