Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

Big Ten Bowl Predictions: Nov. 13 edition

Big Ten Bowl Predictions: Nov. 13 edition

Can QB Trace McSorley (right) lead Penn State to a third consecutive New Year’s Six bowl? The next two weeks will determine the Nittany Lions’ fate. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

We’re getting to that point in the season, which somehow seems like it started just yesterday, where we can start guessing — with a good bit of data to base our opinions on — where teams might end up once bowls are announced in early December. We know the possibilities. We know the current records. We know which way the selection committee is leaning. We have two games left, and we know what might happen from here.

It’s just a matter of putting it all together.

Now, that’s never as easy as it might seem, and as far as Penn State is concerned, there isn’t much consensus. There is some thought Penn State could make a return to the Citrus Bowl for the first time since the 2009 season. There’s even someone thinking they can head back to the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, with Trace McSorley ending his Nittany Lions career essentially where it started, as disappointing as many fans might find that destination. If you don’t like that, two prognosticators at ESPN think the Nittany Lions could force their way back to Arizona for a second consecutive Fiesta Bowl.

Bottom line is, everything is fluid. Penn State can still make a third consecutive trip to a New Year’s Six bowl, or it can go out West for a late-night kickoff a couple days after Christmas. We’ll know more next week at this time. We’ll know even more the following week. Just the way it goes.

But for now, lets take a look at how things are likely to go, until the annual chaos sets in and changes everything for Big Ten teams.

#4 CFP

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

#1 CFP


Dec. 29
Arlington, Tex.


Sure, there’s still a little thing called The Game that needs to be played in two weeks, and Michigan has to get by rival Ohio State on Nov. 24 to secure this bid. But if Michigan doesn’t beat Ohio State this year, it might never get there. And hey, there’s still a chance that the Wolverines winning out and beating the Buckeyes might not get them here. If Georgia beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game — an extreme longshot for sure — the committee might be tempted to put the Bulldogs in and knock the Wolverines out. Clemson should win out against Duke, South Carolina and Pitt in the ACC title game to seal one of the four CFP spots, and Notre Dame will be favored against Syracuse this weekend at Yankee Stadium and USC next weekend at the Coliseum to finish unbeaten with a win over Michigan. If the Irish go unbeaten, they deserve to go. But Michigan looks a lot like the Big Ten’s best team, and it seems illogical to believe the Big Ten champ will be held out of the playoff for a third consecutive year.


Rose Bowl


Ohio State

Jan. 1, 2019
Pasadena, Ca.

Washington State

The ultimate irony in the Big Ten this year is that a one-loss Ohio State team might be able to keep the conference out of the College Football Playoff. It’s not wholly inconceivable that the Buckeyes can beat Michigan, in Columbus, next weekend, finish the regular season 11-1 and get a Northwestern team in the Big Ten Championship Game that might be the weakest Big Ten West champion ever. It does, however, seem wholly inconceivable that Ohio State can climb from No. 10 in the rankings to the top four even if it does all of that. The Cougars have had a great season in a bad conference, and they have a tough opponent remaining, in the regular-season finale against Washington. But it shouldn’t matter. Even a loss will get them to the Rose.

Big Ten

Citrus Bowl


Penn State

Jan. 1, 2019
Orlando, Fla.


The reality with Penn State is that it’s close — very close — to going somewhere a whole lot bigger than the Citrus Bowl, as strong a bowl as the Citrus would be for the program at this point in its rebuild.

Penn State fans always travel well and support the team. But lets face it, a matchup with Kentucky in central Florida after the playoff games have already started and after back-to-back seasons that ended in trips to New Year’s Six bowls isn’t exactly going to move the needle like the Rose Bowl did.

There is, however, plenty of intrigue for Penn State these last two weeks of the season. Assuming the Nittany Lions win their final two games — and they’ll be heavily favored to do so on the road Saturday against Rutgers and at home next weekend against Maryland — they’ll finish the regular season 9-3, and they’re currently stationed at No. 14 in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. That means, they’re on the outside looking in. But, they aren’t that far on the outside.

It’s a simple deal for Penn State: Win out, and hope enough craziness happens to lift it into the top 12 by the time the final standings are released Dec. 2. They’d have to be in the top 11 if Central Florida, currently No. 11, loses a regular season game, because the committee is required to take the top-ranked champion from a non-Power 5 conference. (Out of the Mountain West, Utah State is also ranked No. 23, for what it’s worth.)

Said craziness typically happens in college football. It’s just that it isn’t easy to predict it. But, from a purely Penn State perspective, here’s a look at what could happen to help the Lions get into the New Year’s Six conversation again, and who Nittany Lions fans probably should be rooting for over the next three weeks:

  • Penn State needs to root for Notre Dame.There’s an obvious spot for the Nittany Lions to gain, and soon: If the Fighting Irish beat No. 12 Syracuse on Saturday, the Nittany Lions will most certainly move ahead of the Orange.
  • Penn State needs Northwestern to not win the Big Ten Championship. As odious as this might seem to Nittany Lions fans, they have to hope either Michigan or Ohio State wins the Big Ten title game. They won’t surpass a two-loss Buckeyes or Wolverines team, but Northwestern would head to the Rose as the conference champion, and there’s almost no chance four teams from the same conference will get a NY6 berth.
  • Penn State needs to root against West Virginia. This is the one team currently in the Top 12 that may, possibly lose more than once. The Mountaineers play Oklahoma State this weekend, and while the Cowboys have lost four of five, they beat Texas in that stretch and scored 47 last week against Oklahoma. They can score with anybody, but then again, so can West Virginia. The Mountaineers then have Oklahoma to end the season.
  • Penn State needs a big regular-season upset. If Rice or Texas A&M beat LSU, it would give the Tigers three losses and may drive them below the Nittany Lions. That might be a longshot, though. Where the Lions could really gain ground is if Florida State can upset Florida, but that seems fairly unlikely at this point

Big Ten

Outback Bowl


Michigan State

Jan. 1, 2019
Tampa, Fla.

Texas A&M


Big Ten

Holiday Bowl



Dec. 31
San Diego, Ca.



Big Ten

TaxSlayer Bowl



Dec. 31
Jcaksonville, Fla.



Big Ten

Pinstripe Bowl



Dec. 27
Bronx, NY



Big Ten

RedBox Bowl



Dec, 31
Santa Clara, Ca.

Arizona State


Big Ten

Quick Lane Bowl



Dec. 26
Detroit, Mich.

Georgia Tech







Breaking down the opponent: Pittsburgh

Breaking down the opponent: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has led the Panthers to wins in his first two career starts. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Here’s the look at the Pittsburgh depth chart ahead of Saturday night’s game against Penn State at Heinz Field.


The quarterbacks

8 Kenny Pickett (6-2, 220, So.)
12 Ricky Town (6-3, 215, Jr.) OR 4 Nick Patti (6-1, 185, Fr)

Pickett doesn’t have the reputation or the pedigree of a great quarterback, but he has been great in his two starts for Pitt. As a true freshman in 2017, he started the season finale and led the 24-14 upset of then-No. 2 Miami by rushing for two scores and throwing for another. He became the first Panthers true freshman to start a game at quarterback since 2007, and he followed that performance up in the opener against Albany this season by putting together an efficient 16 for 22, 154-yard, two-touchdown performance throwing the ball, while also picking up 42 yards and a score on the ground.

“He is bigger than you think. He is much more athletic and mobile than you think. You’ve seen that time and time again,” Penn State coach James Franklin said of Pickett. “Obviously he’s been able to step up and play big in big games. So I think he’s earned a lot of respect from us.”

At least in terms of his style of play, Pickett is somewhat reminiscent of Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley.

The running backs

30 Qadree Ollison (6-2, 225, Sr.)
22 Darrin Hall (5-11, 225, Sr.)
21 A.J. Davis (6-0, 215, So)

35 George Aston (6-0, 240, Sr.)
81 Jim Medure (6-2, 235, Jr.)

Ollison and Hall have been quietly, and perhaps too quietly, one of the more productive running back duos in the nation over the last few seasons. Ollison, a senior from Niagara Falls, had five 100-yard rushing performances during the 2015 season with James Conner out, then had his best game of the 2016 season after Conner took over against Penn State. Last season, he split time with Hall, who had a 254-yard effort against Duke and two other ACC opponents. When Pittsburgh has had a 100-yard rusher under coach Pat Narduzzi, it has an 11-5 record; when they rush for 200 yards or more as a team during Narduzzi’s tenure, the Panthers are 13-3.

The receivers

88 Dontavius Butler-Jenkins (6-0, 210, Fr.)
18 Shocky Jacques-Louis (6-0, 180, Fr.)
6 Aaron Mathews (6-4, 215, Jr.)

82 Rafael Araujo-Lopes (5-9, 190, Sr.)
2 Maurice Ffrench (5-11, 190, Jr.)
17 Darian Street (6-1, 185, Fr.)

11 Taysir Mack (6-2, 195, So.)
5 Tre Tipton (6-0, 190, Jr.)
9 Michael Smith (6-1, 215, Fr.)

86 Tyler Sear (6-4, 250, So.)
10 Will Gragg (6-4, 250, Jr.)
84 Grant Carrigan (6-7, 280, Fr.)

All in all, this is a young group of Pitt receivers, but Araujo-Lopes has been around the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. As a junior, he had four catches for 42 yards at Beaver Stadium last season, and he went on to catch 43 passes for 531 yards and two touchdowns in 2017. He already matched the touchdown total last week in the win over Albany State, and he’s also a player the Nittany Lions will have to monitor on sweeps, too.

The offensive line

70 Stefano Millin (6-5, 300, Sr.)
59 Carson Van Lynn (6-5, 290, Fr.)

76 Connor Dintino (6-3, 315, Sr.)
56 Brandon Ford (6-5, 305, So.)

67 Jimmy Morrissey (6-3, 300, So.)
60 Owen Drexel (6-3, 290, Fr.)

66 Mike Herndon (6-4, 310, Sr.)
71 Bryce Hargrove (6-4, 310, So.)

78 Alex Bookser (6-6, 315, Sr.)
57 Gabe Houy (6-6, 310, Fr.)
74 Jerry Drake Jr. (6-5, 305, Fr.)

The Panthers will likely start four seniors against the Nittany Lions — Bookser missed the opener but is expected back this week — but Morrissey is one of the more experienced members of this front despite his sophomore eligibility. A one-time walk-on who earned a scholarship after winning the starting center spot before last season, the Pitt line pivots around him. He has started 13 career games, half as many as the veteran Bookser, who started at guard in the 2016 battle against Penn State before switching to tackle last season.

This group, even with Houy replacing Bookser last week, didn’t allow a sack against Albany.


The defensive line

8 Dewayne Hendrix (6-4, 265, Sr.)
36 Chase Pine (6-2, 250, So.)
5 Deslin Alexandre (6-4, 270, Fr.)

93 Shane Roy (6-4, 280, Sr.)
90 Rashad Wheeler (6-3, 285, So.)

10 Keyshon Camp (6-4, 285, So.) OR 34 Amir Watts (6-3, 290, Jr.)
55 Jaylen Twyman (6-2, 300, Fr.)

17 Rashad Weaver (6-5, 260, So.)
91 Patrick Jones II (6-5, 265, So.)
40 James Folston Jr. (6-4, 250, Sr.)

Hendrix is the big name up front, and Camp and Roy are a handful in the middle. But the most dynamic player in this group is arguably Weaver, a one-time Penn State recruit who chose Pitt and has made a big impact even when he hasn’t started. He started just five games last year but piled up six tackles for loss and three sacks. He’s also built like a small forward, and he has proven adept at batting down passes at the line of scrimmage.

He took over in his first full season as a starter against Albany, registering three tackles, two quarterback hurries and a sack.

Penn State had some issues on the right side of the line last week, and the tackle tandem of Will Fries and Chasz Wright will have their hands full this week.

The linebackers

25 Elijah Zeise (6-2, 240, Sr.) OR 9 Saleem Brightwell (6-0, 225, Jr.)

58 Quintin Wirginis (6-2, 250, Sr.)
36 Chase Pine (6-2, 250, So.) OR 44 Elias Reynolds (6-2, 235, So.)

23 Oluwaseun Idowu (6-0, 230, Sr.)

28 Anthony McKee Jr. (6-2, 220, Jr.)
38 Cam Bright (6-0, 220, Fr.)

Idowu has been a stalwart of the Pittsburgh defense since taking over as a starter during the 2016 season, and he had a huge impact in the last win over Penn State at Heinz Field, recording six tackles and a fumble. Entering his senior season, his best games have seemed to come in Pitt’s biggest moments. The Penn State game in 2016. He had 10 tackles in the upset of Clemson that same season. Eight tackles, three for loss, and another forced fumble last season against the Nittany Lions. A team-best eight tackles against Miami. The media voted him to the All-ACC second team last year, when he led the Panthers in tackles.

The secondary

32 Phillipie Motley (5-10, 180, Sr.) OR 11 Dane Jackson (6-0, 185, Jr.)
14 Marquis Williams (5-8, 160, Fr.)

20 Dennis Briggs (5-10, 195, Sr.)
24 Phil Campbell III (6-1, 200, So.)

3 Damar Hamlin (6-1, 195, Jr.)
7 Jazzee Stocker (6-2, 190, Jr.) OR 27 Bricen Garner (6-1, 190, So.)

16 Damarri Mathis (5-11, 190, So.)
12 Paris Ford (6-0, 195, Fr.) OR 15 Jason Pinnock (6-0, 195, So.)

Jackson didn’t play against Albany, and the Great Danes did make some chunk plays through the air with him on the sideline against what without him is a rather inexperienced secondary. If he plays this week, Jackson gives the Panthers an experienced, proven corner to match against Juwan Johnson. Plus, Jackson played well against Penn State alst season, recording a season-high five tackles, and he intercepted a Trace McSorley pass at the goal line to close out the first half.


98 Kirk Christodoulou (6-1, 210, Fr.)
97 Ethan Van Buskirk (5-10, 220, Fr.)

97 Alex Kessman (6-3, 195, So.)
92 Jake Scarton (6-3, 195, Fr.)

92 Jake Scarton
48 Kellen McAlone (6-2, 210, Sr.)

94 Cal Adomitis (6-1, 225, So.)
51 Grey Brancifort (6-1, 225, Fr.)

2 Maurice Ffrench
12 Paris Ford

82 Rafael Araujo-Lopes
12 Paris Ford

It’s no surprise, given his speed, how dangerous Ffrench can be on kickoff returns. But he showed it off immediately in the opener, bringing the kickoff back 91 yards for a touchdown to start the game against Albany. Given the problems Penn State had on special teams against Appalachian State in their own opener, Ffrench is worth following.

Kessman, meanwhile, is a weapon on kickoffs who wasn’t the most accurate field goal kicker last season. He didn’t do much to change that perception against Albany, missing an extra point. That said, he also has a 55-yard field goal to his credit, the second-longest in Pitt’s program history. He’s prone to the occasional strikeout, but he is also a home-run hitter.

Breaking down the opponent: Appalachian State

Breaking down the opponent: Appalachian State

Penn State expects it will have its hands full with Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore today at Beaver Stadium. Associated Press photo.

Here’s a look at the Appalachian State depth chart ahead of its game today against Penn State:


The quarterbacks

12 Zac Thomas (6-1, 200, So.)

7 Jacob Huesman (6-3, 203, So.) OR 13 Peyton Derrick (6-2, 182, rFr.)

Technically, there was a fierce competition for the starting job in camp. But it seemed pretty clear Thomas ultimately was going to win the job. He served as the top backup to four-year starter Taylor Lamb — one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the nation last year after throwing for 2,737 yards and 27 touchdowns against just six interceptions — and some think Thomas can be even better down the road, considering his dual-threat capabilities.

The running backs

25 Jalin Moore (5-11, 207, Sr.)
3 Darrynton Evans (5-11, 191, So.)

Penn State coach James Franklin raved about Moore’s freakish athleticism earlier this week.

“He has run 4.37 in a 40, and a 38.5 vertical jump, 11-1 broad jump, 390-bench,” Franklin said. “I mean, this guy obviously is a specimen and was the Sun Belt offensive Player of the Year. So that will be challenging.”

That’s all true — he was the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 — and his production should be highlighted for the Nittany Lions. Last season, despite playing through myriad injuries, he rushed for 1,037 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He also had 12 catches. Penn State safety Garrett Taylor compared him to the former Iowa running back Akrum Wadley.

Evans missed all of last season with an injury, but he’s a third-down weapon. He massed 814 all-purpose yards as a true freshman in 2016.

The receivers

5 Thomas Hennigan (6-1, 206, So.)
15 Mock Adams (6-4, 205, Jr.)

14 Malik Williams (5-10, 183, So.) OR 4 Dominique Heath (5-9, 166, Sr.)

2 Corey Sutton (6-3, 205, So.)
11 Jalen Vigil (6-1, 206, So.)

87 Collin Reed (6-4, 248, Jr.)
89 Devin Papenheim (6-6, 254, Jr.) OR 88 Henry Pearson (6-3, 243, Fr.)

Hennigan started last season as a relative unknown, had to assume a starting role because of some injuries, and wound up putting together a strong season, finishing second on the team with 585 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.

The group got a boost this offseason, as Sutton and Heath — two transfers from Kansas State — became eligible to play.

The offensive line

75 Victor Johnson (6-5, 296, Jr.)
56 Nate Haskins (6-4, 280, So.)

58 Ryan Neuzil (6-3, 280, So.)
70 Cooper Hodges (6-4, 301, Fr.)

60 Noah Hannon (6-1, 270, So.)
52 Tobias Edge-Campbell (6-2, 272, Sr.)

73 Cole Garrison (6-4, 283, So.) OR 51 Baer Hunter (6-2, 286, So.)

78 Chandler Greer (6-4, 288, Sr.)
79 Luke Burnette (6-5, 268, Fr.) OR 55 Matt Williams (6-5, 286, So.)

The first-team all-Sun Belt Conference left tackle last season, Williams returns as the unquestioned best blind-side protector in the conference. He helped the Mountaineers allow just eight sacks in 2017 (the second-lowest total nationally) and he might be an even better run blocker.

Still, this group lost two other all-conference performers.


The defensive line

47 Okon Godwin (6-1, 250, Sr.)
90 Chris Willis (6-2, 245, So.)
54 Jermaine McDaniel Jr. (6-3, 223, rFr.)

92 MyQuon Stout (6-1, 280, Sr.)
98 E.J. Scott (6-3, 279, Jr.) OR 96 Markell Clark (6-0, 264, So.)

57 Elijah Diarrassouba (6-1, 250, So.)
97 Caleb Spurlin (5-10, 255, So.)
48 Demetrius Taylor (6-1, 260, So.)

Franklin said the Mountaineers’ nose tackle has an apt last name. Stout gave opponents fits in the base 3-4 defense last year, recording 41 tackles. But he was able to do the job all good nose tackles in the 3-4 do best: He commanded double-teams, freeing up linebackers to run free and make stops.

Godwin and Diarrassouba are first-year starters, but Godwin had 4.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in a backup role last season.

The linebackers

20 Noel Cook (6-0, 212, Jr.)
10 Tim Frizzell (6-1, 223, So.) OR 31 Nick Hampton (6-3, 202, Fr.)

44 Anthony Flory (6-1, 232, Sr.)

45 Trey Cobb (6-2, 220, Fr.) OR 51 Tyler Bird (6-2, 218, Fr.)

59 Jordan Fehr (6-3, 226, Jr.)
52 D’Marco Jackson (6-1, 220, rFr.)

24 Akeem Davis-Gaither (6-2, 208, Jr.)
29 Devonte Harrison (6-0, 201, So.)

Flory is a preseason all-conference pick at linebacker and is coming off one of his best collegiate performances in the Mountaineers’ Dollar General Bowl win over Toledo. In that one, he registered eight tackles, hurried the quarterback once, and had a 19-yard interception return to set up Appalachian State’s first touchdown in a 34-0 blowout. He was named defensive MVP in that game, and as Franklin noted, his overall skill set is very reminiscent of former Penn State linebacker Brandon Bell. He’s not going to set the world on fire athletically, but he’s smart, savvy, plays with good sense and always seems to get himself in position to make a play.

The secondary

17 Tae Hayes (5-10, 183, Sr.)
16 Shaun Jolly (5-9, 171, rFr.)

6 Desmond Franklin (6-0, 200, Jr)
9 Austin Exford (6-0, 200, Sr.)

7 Josh Thomas (6-0, 206, Jr.)
13 Kaiden Smith (6-1, 196, So.) OR 21 Ryan Huff (6-1, 200, rFr.)

4 Clifton Duck (5-10, 170, Jr.)
8 Shemar Jean-Charles (5-11, 1818, So.)
12 Steven Jones (5-10, 180, rFr.)

Duck against McSorley and either of Penn State’s top two receivers will be fun to watch, because an argument can be made that Duck is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation at the start of the 2018 season.

Street and Smith named him a second-team All-American in the preseason, and the Sun Belt Conference tabbed him its preseason defensive player of the year. No player in the nation has more than his 11 interceptions since he became a starter at the beginning of 2016, and Pro Football Focus says opposing quarterbacks have just a 50.4 passer rating when targeting the receiver Duck is covering with a throw. That is, according to PFF, the lowest passer rating against an FBS corner over that period. He is one of just eight FBS players since 2000 to record five interceptions or more in his freshman and sophomore seasons.


91 Chandler Staton (5-11, 184, So.)
41 Michael Rubino (6-3, 215, Jr.)

30 Clayton Howell (6-0, 183, rFr.)
39 Xavier Subotsch (6-1, 193, So.)

93 Elias McMurry (6-0, 237, Sr.)
53 Max Durschlag (5-11, 197, Fr.) OR 50 Keaton Forbes (6-0, 215, Fr.)

39 Xavier Subotsch
2 Zeb Speir (6-2, 203, Sr.)

3 Darrynton Evans
5 Thomas Hennigan

4 Clifton Duck
5 Thomas Hennigan

Staton has a strong leg, and he was pretty accurate on field goals in limited chances during his freshman season in 2017. He connected on all 31 of his extra point attempts last season, and he was 8 of 9 on field goal attempts, with a long of 53.

Lions add home-and-home with Temple

Pitt fans are going to love this one.

Penn State announced today that it has added a home-and-home series with Temple to its 2026 and 2027 nonconference schedules.

The Lions also announced a slew of other nonconference games: Villanova is coming to Beaver Stadium in 2021 and 2025. Delaware will be there in 2023 and 2027, and the Lions will host Central Michigan in 2022.

Villanova and Delaware are FCS programs, albeit good ones, and certainly the directional Michigan schools never move the needle much. But here’s guessing most of the talk when it comes to these announcements surrounds Temple gettingg a home-and-home, when that seemed to be a nonstarter in most minds for a renewal of the rivalry with Pitt, which ends next year.

I’m on the record, and I know it’s a point many Penn State fans don’t agree with. But, I think if you’re Penn State, you should be playing Pitt every year. And, if you’re going to go to Philly to play Temple one of those two years, you can go to Pittsburgh to play Pitt.

I think playing Pitt makes you better if you’re Penn State. Do you get anything from it, necessarily? No, especially considering it has not traditionally been an automatic victory. But it gives you a heated game in a different kind of atmosphere. Just about every program that competes for a national title year in and year out has that type of game on the schedule.

Were those two years on the table? I don’t pretend to know. But if they were, I’m with this guy on this one.

Taylor finally gets his chance

Taylor finally gets his chance

Garrett Taylor (17) and Kyle Vasey pursue a tackle on special teams last season at Ohio State. Taylor is hoping to make his mark as a starting safety in 2018. Photo by Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics.

Before he got to Penn State, Garrett Taylor was a pretty good recruit. A four-star kid with prototypical height and blistering speed and scholarship offers from national powers like Clemson and Michigan and Michigan State and Wisconsin and Miami.

And for his first three years in the program after committing to Penn State, none of those natural gifts were good enough to get him much time on the field.

There were solid players on the roster ahead of him of course, but even a few position switches — from safety to cornerback and back to safety — were enough to find him a role.

Then, this past offseason, with the chance to earn a starting spot in front of him, Taylor came to the realization that natural gifts weren’t going to be enough.

“This offseason,” he said, “I really focused on trying to become more explosive.”

read more…

Big Ten announces 2022-25 conference schedules

The Big Ten released its scheduling for the four-season stretch between 2022 and 2025 this afternoon.

Here’s how it looks for Penn State, schedule-wise, those years:

S3 at Purdue*
S17 at Auburn
O1 Ohio State*
O8 at Michigan*
O15 Illinois*
O29 Michigan State*
N5 at Indiana*
N12 Maryland*
N19 Minnesota*
N26 at Rutgers*
Two non-conference games to be scheduled

What stands out:
The season will open with a Big Ten game for the first time since 1994, when Penn State beat Minnesota, 56-3, at the old Metrodome.

S7 West Virginia
S16 at Illinois*
S23 at Northwestern*
O7 Indiana*
O14 at Michigan State*
O21 at Ohio State*
O28 Iowa*
N4 Michigan*
N18 Rutgers*
N25 at Maryland*
Two non-conference games to be scheduled

What stands out: Back-to-back road games on consecutive weekends to Columbus and East Lansing for the Nittany Lions again. Not sure if that’s going to mean then what it means now, of course. … Here’s what Penn State isn’t going to be happy with, though: Back-to-back road games in September against Illinois and Northwestern. Making the same trip twice in a row, essentially.

A31 at West Virginia
S7 Bowling Green
S14 at Rutgers*
O5 Maryland*
O12 Illinois*
O19 at Wisconsin*
O26 Nebraska*
N9 Ohio State*
N16 at Michigan*
N23 at Indiana*
N30 Michigan State*
One non-conference game to be scheduled

What stands out: Look who’s back on the schedule closing out the season. Sparty and the Land Grant Trophy game, just like old times. … Rutgers and Maryland go to season-ending foes to season-opening ones.

S6 Virginia Tech
S20 Rutgers*
S27 at Illinois*
O4 Purdue*
O18 at Maryland*
O25 at Minnesota*
N1 Indiana*
N15 at Ohio State*
N22 Michigan*
N29 at Michigan State*
Two non-conference games to be scheduled

What stands out:
There is the obligatory back-to-back road trips, but they’re to a relatively nearby Maryland and Minnesota. But Penn State might have some issues to deal with down the stretch, considering they are at Ohio State, vs. Michigan and at Michigan State in the season’s final three weeks. That’s a gauntlet.

The kicking competition, from the long snapper’s eyes

The kicking competition, from the long snapper’s eyes

Albeit from differing perspectives, there probably isn’t a Penn State player who has gotten a closer look at what might have been the hottest competition for starting jobs during preseason camp than Kyle Vasey.

The Wallenpaupack grad’s job is as secure as it gets, of course. He took over long-snapping duties for the Nittany Lions last season, and he did so well that he earned a scholarship in the offseason. But all around him in August, unknown commodities fluttered about. Guys like Rafael Checa and Vlad Hilling and Jake Pinegar and Justin Tobin and Carson Landis, players most Penn State fans had never heard of a year ago at this time. Guys who have never played college football before, but who were vying to man one of the most important, if least heralded, positions the 2018 squad had open.

We know how it broke down. The true freshman Pinegar will handle field goals when the Nittany Lions open the season against Appalachian State on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Another true freshman, Rafael Checa, will handle kickoffs. Typically though, depth charts tell you only how the competition ended, and not how it went. But head coach James Franklin raved about the performance of the candidates to replace Tyler Davis, saying that it was the best competition for the kicker spot the program has seen “by far” during his time in Happy Valley. He went on to say that he’d feel comfortable with any of Pinegar, Hilling, Checa or Tobin kicking field goals during a game.

The player who worked nearest to those kickers concurred.

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In-depth look at PSU’s first depth chart

In-depth look at PSU’s first depth chart

He won’t start, but true freshman Micah Parsons has a prominent place in the first depth chart released by Penn State on Tuesday. (Photo by Joe Hermitt, via Associated Press.)

Depth charts don’t have to mean anything. Let’s get that stipulation out of the way right now.

But, reality is, they do. Especially the first one a team releases at the beginning of a season, and Penn State’s came out today with some surprises.

Here’s a look at some of them:

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Report: Manny Bowen out again at PSU

First, he was gone. Then, he was back.

Now, Manny Bowen’s career with Penn State’s football program seems to be over again.

The senior linebacker’s name was noticeably absent from the first 2018 regular roster Penn State released on Monday, and Lions247 quickly confirmed through the athletic department that Bowen is no longer with the program.

Bowen was initially suspended for a violation of team rules last October, and head coach James Franklin said in December that Bowen would be gone from the program on a permanent basis. But, at the team’s annual media day earlier this month, Franklin announced Bowen was back with the team, which was welcomed news for a program that could use a veteran at the linebacker position. Even though he played in just nine games last season, he finished with 51 tackles, good for fifth-best on the defense. He was also arguably the best pass-rushing linebacker the Nittany Lions had.

That said, Franklin won’t always come right out and say what’s going on. But, if you listen closely enough, he’ll tell you what’s going on. And it was clear from both his and defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s words during their media day press conferences that Bowen’s status with the team had plenty of conditions stapled to it.

“I think probably the biggest part of that is Manny graduates in December, and we felt like this plan was going to give him the best opportunity to graduate in December and leave with his degree,” Franklin said at the time. “But we didn’t make it easy on him. I was surprised when he said, ‘I’m going to try to grind this thing out.’ Because the easiest thing to do would have been just to transfer. We put a bunch of stipulations out and he met those stipulations.

“I can’t tell you what his role on the team is going to be like to be honest with you. I have no idea.”

Added Pry: “In my mind, I’m not planning on Manny Bowen right now. With what we know, the information we have, that’s the way this thing’s playing out right now, and if things change, we’ll take another look at it.”

Things like that get said about players getting second chances all the time, then they wind up being contributors once the feathers fly. But the recent history with Franklin is that if he sounds skeptical, there’s a reason. So, Penn State is back to where we all thought it was at the linebacker position heading into camp. Young and inexperienced pretty much all around. But talented.

UPDATE, Aug. 28: Looks like Manny Bowen decided to focus on his studies rather than football, according to my pal Mark Wogenrich of the Allentown Morning Call.

This is probably best for all sides, honestly. The coaches seemed much more concerned about Bowen getting to the finish line with his degree — and he has always been a good student — than they were with him contributing this season. Now, he can make graduating his singular focus.

UPDATE, Aug. 28: Bowen released a statement through his Twitter account.

The bottom line is, Bowen’s statement echoes what Cam Brown said earlier in the day, that he left the program to focus on getting his degree.

That being said, the statement leaves open the possibility that Bowen will look to resume his career next season. He’d have been a true senior this season, which means he has a year of eligibility left. So, conceivably, he could look to move on somewhere else as a graduate transfer next year and play immediately.

REPORT: Penn State, Texas discussing pair of meetings

Interesting bit of news being reported by 247sports today, as it appears Penn State and Texas are looking to put together a home-and-home series about a decade from now.

According to the article, Texas has a few programs it is interested in adding over the 2028-31 time frame, but it’s looking like the Nittany Lions might be the early favorite to grab the 2030-31 half of that block.

The Nittany Lions have been attempting to beef up their nonconference schedule since James Franklin took over as head coach, and they do have some marquee games coming up in future years.

They have a road game at Virginia Tech in 2020, and the Hokies come to Beaver Stadium in 2025. The Lions have a home-and-home with Auburn in 2021 and 2022, and then another with West Virginia in 2023 and 2024. These are the series that ultimately replace the Pitt games, which are off the schedule after the Panthers come to Beaver Stadium next year.

The Lions and Texas do have a bit of history they can choose to renew. The powerhouses have met five times all-time, with Penn State holding a 3-2 advantage. They last met in the 1997 Fiesta Bowl, which the Nittany Lions won, 38-15. Three of those five games have come at neutral sites, though.

The only time the Lions and Longhorns played a true home-and-home came in 1989 and 1990. The Lions won the 1989 game, 16-12, in Austin. Texas won the 1990 game, 17-13, at Beaver Stadium.