Penn State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

Barry Leonard@@barryleonardjrAnalyst IIIMay 1, 2013

Penn State Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

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    The Penn State Nittany Lions will look to improve on a successful 2012 season in which they finished 8-4. The upcoming schedule features eight bowl teams from a season ago.

    That doesn't count Ohio State who was undefeated but ineligible for postseason play.

    2013 will mark the Nittany Lions' final season of play in the Big Ten Leaders Division as the conference will realign in 2014 with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers.

    Familiar opponents like Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue will once again match up with the Nittany Lions this season. Others, such as Minnesota and Michigan have also once again landed on Penn State's schedule.

    While Penn State returns an experienced team, especially on offense, 2013 will still present some challenges. Quarterback Matt McGloin will need to be replaced. Steven Bench, the only quarterback on the roster with experience at the major college level, recently announced he's leaving the school.

    Roster depth issues caused by a loss of scholarships and graduation will be something that head coach Bill O'Brien will have to overcome.

    However, based on how he dealt with everything last season, Penn State fans should be encouraged and excited for the new season.

    While the first game is still about three months away, it's not too early to start looking ahead.

    This slideshow predicts the outcome of every Penn State game in 2013.

August 31: Syracuse (At MetLife Stadium)

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    The Nittany Lions kick off the new season with a matchup against an old rival.

    Penn State will meet up with the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. This will be the 71st meeting between the schools, with the most recent coming in 2009.

    The Orange, who haven't been relevant in football for a number of years, have improved as of late, and finished 2012 with a solid record of 8-5. That includes a win in the New Era Pinstripes Bowl against a West Virginia team that spent part of the year near the top of the polls.

    Unfortunately for Syracuse, starting quarterback Ryan Nassib is gone and the team will need to build around a new signal-caller—likely by junior Terrel Hunt.

    Leading receiver Alec Lemon is also gone.

    Ironically, the Nittany Lions are currently dealing with quarterback trouble themselves with the graduation of Matt McGloin.

    Last seasons backup Steven Bench recently announced that he will be transferring.

    That leaves junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson and freshman Christian Hackenberg, who was considered the top quarterback recruit, to battle it out.

    Regardless of who's under center for Penn State, the offense is loaded with talent at wide receiver, tight end and running back.

    The Nittany Lions also return several starters on defense, including the Big Ten's freshman of the year in defensive tackle Deion Barnes.

    This one should be close, with both teams getting used to new signal-callers.

    However, the experience of Penn State on both offense and defense will prevail in a solid, season-opening win.

    Prediction: Penn State 24 Syracuse 17

    Season Record: 1-0

September 7: Eastern Michigan

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    Penn State opens its home schedule with a game that should be a no-contest.

    The Eastern Michigan Eagles finished 2012 with a miserable record of 2-10, and in fact, have not had a winning record in nearly 20 years.

    The Eagles were ranked near the bottom of several offensive categories in the nation last season, including passing yards and points for. They also gave up a lot of points, ranking 115th in that category.

    This game will be a chance for head coach Bill O'Brien to see what he's got on the roster, especially if whoever wins the starting quarterback job struggles in the season-opener.

    With the score likely being out of hand early, look for the Nittany Lions to run the ball, giving several touches to Akeel Lynch. The redshirt freshman had an impressive spring and rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

    Nittany Lions' fans will leave this one happy after watching a dominating performance by both the offense and the defense.

    Prediction: Penn State 45 Eastern Michigan 10

    Season Record: 2-0

September 14: Central Florida

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    Central Florida is coming off a season that saw it play in the Conference USA title game, eventually losing to Tulsa in overtime. Quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw for 3,059 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, returns to lead the offense this year.

    UCF has some playmakers on offense, including Storm Johnson, who rushed for 507 yards and four touchdowns as a backup. Also, leading receiver Ranell Hall could cause some trouble for the Penn State secondary.

    The Golden Knights had a solid defense last year, only allowing 22.1 points a game, good enough for 27th in the country in that category.

    With that being said, Penn State will have plenty of firepower on offense to keep the UCF defense busy.

    By the third game of the season, the Nittany Lions should be getting more adjusted to their new quarterback and starting to click as an offensive unit.

    This game will be tight for a while, but Penn State will prevail in the fourth quarter.

    Prediction: Penn State 27 Central Florida 14

    Season Record: 3-0

September 21: Kent State

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    The Nittany Lions wrap up their non-conference schedule with a home game against Kent State.

    The Golden Flashes had a superb season a year ago, finishing 11-3 and just missing out on a BCS Bowl bid by losing to Northern Illinois in the MAC title game.

    Kent State boasted one of the top rushing offenses last year, led by dual-threat Dri Archer, who returns to the offense in 2013. He ran for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012, while also leading the team with 561 receiving yards.

    Beyond Archer, the Golden Flashes may struggle to produce much offensively.

    While he'll probably break a few big plays, expect the Nittany Lions to be ready to shut him down and force Kent State to beat them in other ways.

    Entering this game, the Nittany Lions should be sitting at 3-0. Against Kent State, Penn State should be clicking on all cylinders, having had a full year of practice to implement O'Brien's system.

    Wide receiver Allen Robinson, along with a corral of talented tight ends, will cause matchup problems all over the field in this one.

    While this may be a popular upset pick due to last year's success, look for Kent State to fail to hang with the tougher Nittany Lions.

    After all, the Golden Flashes have never defeated a Big Ten team.

    Prediction: Penn State 26 Kent State 20

    Season Record: 4-0

October 5: At Indiana

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    Penn State opens its Big Ten portion of the schedule on the road at Indiana.

    While Bloomington has been the site of some close games for the Nittany Lions, they hold an overall record of 16-0 against the Hoosiers.

    Last season, the Hoosiers ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring defense. That will bode well for a Penn State team that will likely be fully adjusted to having a new quarterback.

    When Penn State hosted Indiana last year, the Nittany Lions put up 546 yards of total offense and 45 points. Zach Zwinak rushed for 135 yards and wide receiver Allen Robinson was unstoppable, totaling 197 yards receiving with three touchdowns.

    There's no reason to think that a repeat performance won't happen in 2013.

    As far as defending against Indiana, the Nittany Lions will face a bit of a test against quarterback Cameron Coffman. He threw for 2,734 and 15 touchdowns a season ago as the Hoosiers ranked 17th in the nation in passing yards.

    Coffman already showed that he can throw on the Penn State defense, racking up 454 yards at Beaver Stadium last year.

    Despite being able to put up yards on offense, Indiana will come out on the short end of the stick in this one. Look for monster numbers from Coffman, as the Hoosiers will fall behind early and have to play catch-up.

    Beyond that, don't expect much else from the home team.

    Prediction: Penn State 37 Indiana 18

    Season Record: 5-0

October 12: Michigan

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    Beaver Stadium will no doubt be rocking on October 12 when the Michigan Wolverines come to town. These teams have not met since 2010, when the Nittany Lions came out with the 41-31 home win.

    This game will carry some hype, as both teams have a great chance to be undefeated heading into the contest.

    Michigan will be led on offense by quarterback Devin Gardner. He started last season as a talented wide receiver, but ended the year as the team's starting quarterback, throwing for 1,219 yards with 11 touchdowns.

    Fitzgerald Toussaint is a solid running back who has the ability to break a big play.

    Penn State will have to play good defense in this one. Getting pressure on Gardner will be a key to the game.

    This will certainly be the Nittany Lions' toughest test to date, as Michigan is even better on defense than they are on offense. Last year, the Wolverines finished second in the B1G in total defense, allowing 320 total yards per game.

    In order for the Nittany Lions to be successful in this one, the playmakers on offense are going to need to step up. The running backs need to get going early in order to open up the passing game.

    Look for a close game that goes down to the wire. However, in the end, the home crowd will help Penn State pull off the big win.

    Prediction: Penn State 27 Michigan 23

    Season Record: 6-0

October 26: At Ohio State

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    The Nittany Lions will really be feeling good about themselves if they are 6-0 heading into Columbus. However, that's where the good feeling will stop. The Buckeyes are sure to be one of the top teams in the nation, and certainly the best team in the Big Ten.

    Led by quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes outplayed Penn State last season in Happy Valley.

    Miller accounted for three scores, one in the air and two on the ground. He threw for 143 yards and ran all over the Nittany Lions' defense to the tune of 134 yards.

    Much of the same can be expected in this game.

    Miller has had another year to develop further and will be even better in 2013. Not to mention the fact that Ohio State returns a lot of experience on offense.

    If there's some good news for Penn State in this game, it's the fact that Ohio State has lost a lot of experience on defense.

    All four starters up front will be new this season. However, the defense will still have one of the best cornerbacks in the conference in Bradley Roby.

    In last year's matchup, the Nittany Lions managed just 32 rushing yards. That number will be higher in this one, but it still won't be enough.

    The Buckeyes are too strong and will outplay Penn State in their quest to compete for a National Championship in 2013.

    Prediction: Penn State 17 Ohio State 28

    Season Record: 6-1

November 2: Illinois

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    After a tough loss in Columbus, the Nittany Lions will return to the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium for a winnable game against Illinois.

    The Illini struggled last season, finishing with just two wins and 10 losses, including a 35-7 shellacking at home to Penn State.

    Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in total offense and 10th in total defense.

    This game will be just what the Nittany Lions need to get back on track, as they hold an all-time record of 16-4 over the Illini.

    Running back Zach Zwinak had a breakout game at Illinois last year, rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns against one of the worst rush defenses in the conference. Penn State should be able to run the ball with ease in this one behind a combination of Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Bill Belton.

    Illinois returns two quarterbacks in Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole. Scheelhaase started against the Nittany Lions last year and threw for 270 yards, with two picks.

    This midseason tilt will be a great opportunity for the Nittany Lions to bounce back and gain confidence for the remainder of the season.

     Prediction: Penn State 42 Illinois 10

    Season Record: 7-1

November 9: At Minnesota

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    In the past, a road trip to Minnesota wasn't considered too tough. Sure, the Metrodome could get loud, but this was the Golden Gophers, not the NFL.

    However, the Gophers now play at their own outdoor stadium, a place that has already proven to be difficult.

    Last season, Minnesota was 4-2 at home.

    The Nittany Lions will travel there in November, so the weather could be freezing cold and even snowy.

    With crazy weather, anything can happen.

    Assuming there isn't a freak blizzard, Penn State should come out victorious in this one.

    The Golden Gophers ranked in the middle of the Big Ten in defense a year ago and struggled on offense, ranking 10th in the conference in total offense.

    Penn State's defense will take over in this one, limiting Minnesota's opportunities to put points on the board. Sophomore Phillip Nelson should be under center and will look to be more effective than he was last season in which he played the final seven games and threw for 873 yards with eight touchdowns as well as eight interceptions.

    Against the Gopher's weak defense, expect the Nittany Lions to move the ball and put up points on offense.

    The running backs could be in for a big day, as Minnesota gave up an average of 172 yards on the ground in 2012.

    This will be closer than it would be if it were played at Beaver Stadium, but the Nittany Lions continue their solid season, scoring a conference road victory in this one.

    Prediction: Penn State 28 Minnesota 19

    Season Record: 8-1

November 16: Purdue

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    The Purdue Boilermakers come to town for a late-season conference battle on November 16. Last year's meeting in West Lafayette wasn't close, as the Nittany Lions dominated, winning 34-9.

    This season may not be much better, as the Boilers have to replace all of its leaders on offense.

    Senior Rob Henry is the only quarterback on the roster who saw time for Purdue last year, attempting just 38 passes, throwing for 216 yards and three touchdowns.

    New head coach Darrell Hazell, who came over from Kent State, will look to make improvements in 2013.

    The Nittany Lions will control this game on defense.

    By this point in the season, the replacements on defense will no longer be inexperienced and should be in full stride.

    Penn State should also be successful on offense against the Boilermakers.

    Purdue finished 2012 ranked 11th in the conference in total defense. Last year, Zach Zwinak went for 135 yards in the road victory.

    Prediction: Penn State 29 Purdue 13

    Season Record: 9-1

November 23: Nebraska

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    Nebraska is entering its third year of Big Ten play. 

    Penn State has lost to the Cornhuskers in each of the last two years.

    Last season's matchup in Lincoln saw the Nittany Lions take a two touchdown lead into halftime, but they were only able to get a field goal in the second half, and lost  32-23.

    Although this game is at Beaver Stadium, it will be a tough one for the Nittany Lions to win.

    Nebraska returns a strong team with several experienced players at key positions, with the most important being senior quarterback Taylor Martinez.

    He threw for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago, including the game against the Nittany Lions in which he had 171 passing yards and 104 yards on the ground.

    The Nebraska offense will be a tough challenge for Penn State.

    On offense, the Nittany Lions did have success running the ball in last year's game, as Zach Zwinak racked up 141 yards.

    That trend should continue, as the Cornhuskers ranked 10th in the Big Ten for rush defense.

    Penn State will be able to move the ball on the Nebraska defense, both through the air and on the ground.

    This will be a tight game and the crowd will be in it from the start.

    However, in the end, the Nebraska offense, especially the running game behind both Martinez and Ameer Abdullah will be too much.

     Prediction: Penn State 23 Nebraska 27

    Season Record: 9-2

November 30: At Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin has won three-straight Big Ten titles and could be in the mix yet again as the 2013 season winds down.

    New head coach Gary Andersen will lead the Badgers into their 2013 regular season finale at home against the Nittany Lions.

    Penn State defeated Wisconsin at home last year, but was blown out the last time they visited the Badgers.

    Madison is always a tough place to play, and this year will be no different.

    The Badgers return a lot of talent on offense, including quarterbacks, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips.

    In last years meeting with the Nittany Lions, Phillips threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back James White, who scored 12 touchdowns last season, is out of Montee Ball's shadow and is set for a successful year.

    The Nittany Lions' defense will have a hard time stopping the Wisconsin passing game.

    Jared Abbrederis has emerged as one of the top receivers in the Big Ten and can cause matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. However, he was limited to just 35 yards against Penn State last year.

    Senior tight end Jacob Pedersen is also a big part of the Badgers' passing attack.

    While the Badgers have an opportunity to put up a lot of points in this one, the same can be said for the Nittany Lions.  

    Last season, Penn State running back Zach Zwinak torched the Badgers for 179 yards.

    This year's talented backfield will also find running room.

    The Penn State passing attack will have to take advantage of a young, inexperienced Wisconsin secondary. Tight end Jesse James shined against the Badgers last season, gaining 90 yards and a touchdown.

    This one will be a shootout, with the Badgers pulling out the victory in front of the home crowd.

    Prediction: Penn State 37 Wisconsin 42

    Final Season Record: 9-3