With only four games on the road, and a 26-2 record at home since 2005, Penn State looks like a team that will again be in the national championship conversation at season's end.
The Nittany Lions' non-conference schedule, however, could cost them when the final BCS rankings are released.
The four non-conference teams on Penn State's schedule this season are Akron, Syracuse, Temple, and Eastern Illinois.
The only fear any of these teams cause among the Nittany Lion faithful is how much this schedule will cost PSU when it's all said and done.
This is not to say that none of these teams have a chance to upset PSU, just ask Michigan what happens when you overlook a "mid-major" team. But with a combined 18-30 record last season, they aren't exactly on par with Iowa or Ohio State.
These teams will provide some matchup issues, especially since PSU has to replace seven starters on offense, so let's break down how each game could play out.
First up is Akron. The Zips are coming off a 5-7 season and have made some coaching changes, as head coach J.D. Brookhart has brought in his former mentor Walt Harris as assistant head coach and Shane Montgomery as offensive coordinator. Montgomery will bring the same offense that was successful for him at Miami (OH).
The Zips could have a slight experience edge, as they return 19 seniors, with the only losses on offense being at left tackle, running back, and tight end. This could play into the Zips' favor, as PSU will have to replace both Maurice Evans and first-round draft pick Aaron Maybin at defensive end.
The advantage for Penn State is in a defensive unit that finished fourth in the nation in total defense last season. Gone is first-round draft pick and team sack leader Aaron Maybin, but the defense will get a boost with the return of All-American linebacker Sean Lee, who missed last season with a torn ACL.
Akron will keep this game close in the first half, as its experience could cause some of the newcomers to the PSU offense to have a few growing pains. But in the end, the Nittany Lion defense will be too much for the Zips to overcome.
Final score: PSU wins 31-13.
Syracuse will come into Happy Valley sporting what could most accurately be described as a glorified high school squad, as the Orange could start as many as 11 true freshmen this season.
In trying to be as objective as possible, it is hard to see where the Orange would have any advantage, even on paper. This is a team that averaged a mere 18.4 ppg last season, while giving up 32.7.
The most interesting aspect of this game will come in the form of Greg Paulus. The Duke basketball point guard turned Syracuse quarterback could come out of the gates as the starter for new head coach Doug Marrone. If that is the case, he would have one game behind him and will still be trying to adapt to the speed of the college game. Paulus' sheer will to win could keep the Orange in some close games this season.
In the final analysis, Syracuse will come into Beaver Stadium severely overmatched. The good thing for coach Marrone is that Joe Paterno is a good sport and will do what he can to keep the score from resembling the Florida-Citadel fiasco from last season.
Final score: PSU wins 52-7.
In the third game of the season, Penn State will host Temple. These two teams are virtually the same ones that met in Happy Valley last season in a 45-3 thrashing by PSU.
As with Syracuse, there is no reason to think that Temple will pose any matchup problems for the Lions.
Some may look at the PSU secondary as a cause for concern against the Owls. Penn State will be without the services of Tony Davis, Lydell Sargeant, and Anthony Scirrotto, but many inside the PSU locker room feel that this year's secondary of Knowledge Timmons, A.J. Wallace, Andrew Dailey, and Drew Astorino is actually better than last year's.
Astorino in particular really came on at the end of last season, and during spring practice, he was who the defense turned to if Lee was not on the field.
Paterno will have his kids geared up for this game, as it will be their final contest before the conference opener against Iowa. Temple may come out of the gate early and try to hit a big play or two in an attempt to grab an early lead, but the PSU defense is just too good for the Owls.
Final score: PSU wins 41-0.
Games against Iowa and at Illinois are sandwiched between the final non-conference games. After traveling to Champaign, Penn State will return home to host Eastern Illinois on Oct. 10.
This game is what really gives PSU fans cause for concern. Eastern Illinois is a FCS school out of the Ohio Valley Conference, and unlike Appalachian State, it is not the defending FCS Champions.
Nor is it the defending OVC Champions, nor is it coming off a .500 season with a lot of promise.
Eastern Illinios was 5-7 last season.
As a team, the Panthers rushed for 1716 yards. Evan Royster and Stephon Green combined for 1814 yards.
The Panthers had a points per game differential of -.8 last season, while the Lions posted +27.8 mark in that category.
Why did anyone at Penn State even allow Eastern Illinois to be thought of as an opponent?
The only good that could possibly come out of this game for Penn State is the opportunity to see what some of the kids down the depth chart can do in a game situation.
If the final of this game is anything less than a 28 point margin of victory, PSU would have to be undefeated at season's end to even think of playing for the national championship. And God forbid a player like Lee, Royster, or Daryll Clark were to get injured in this game.
From every angle, the scheduling of this game is a head scratcher.
Final score: PSU wins 52-3, but drops at least three spots in the polls.
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