Penn State

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

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.”

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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.

Injury forces backup QB Zembiec to call it quits

For the second time this summer, a promising Penn State player has been forced to give up football for medical reasons.

Backup quarterback Jake Zembiec — a sophomore who completed 6 of 12 passes for a touchdown and rushed for 36 yards during the Blue-White Game in April — announced via his Twitter account Tuesday night that he is accepting a medical scholarship “due to an ongoing injury” and will no longer be a player in the program.

There has been no word on the specific injury, but Zembiec has battled health issues since he arrived on campus as part of the 2016 recruiting class. Zembiec’s departure leaves the Nittany Lions with four scholarship players at quarterback (senior Trace McSorley, junior Tommy Stevens, redshirt freshman Sean Clifford and true freshman Will Levis). Clifford has earned rave reviews from the coaching staff for his command of the offense, and offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne said over the weekend that he has taken the next step in his preparation and leadership. So, it sounded as if Clifford had taken firm hold of the third-team role, one he battled most of last season for with Zembiec.

Zembiec was a pretty good recruit out of the Rochester, N.Y., area coming out of high school, a four-star kid with a big arm and some mobility. Sounds like he’ll still have some kind of role within the program, though.

Duda: Whigan, Brisker going to be “very, very good” at PSU

Duda: Whigan, Brisker going to be “very, very good” at PSU

Rob Ambrose is the first coach to find Anthony Whigan.

The longtime leader of the football program at Towson State, Ambrose found the tall, athletic offensive lineman from Great Mills, Maryland, controlling defensive linemen with relative ease and displaying the promise he figured could blossom into success at Towson. So, he offered Whigan a scholarship to play football there, and Whigan accepted it.

Only one problem: Whigan didn’t qualify academically.

So, Ambrose did what he so often does when a player he’d like to have needs a little more time after high school. He sent him to Mark Duda.

Whigan arrived at Lackawanna College the same way a lot of college football hopefuls do, and go figure, he’ll end up leaving the way Ambrose figured he would.

“The thing was, he said to me, “There’s no way we’re going to get him back,” Duda, Lackawanna’s legendary head coach, said. “Once you guys get him, he’s going to become a major player in this country.”

And no, Whigan won’t be heading back to Towson.

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Rosters released for 2018 Blue-White Game

Rosters released for 2018 Blue-White Game

It’s the game that doesn’t matter, played mostly by walk-ons and third stringers, until the coaches decide they don’t want to play anymore.

But man, do a lot of people care about Penn State’s spring scrimmage.

The Blue-White Game will kick off at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, and if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of Penn State’s biggest football stars before summer practice starts in August….well, you probably won’t see much of them. But it will be a good opportunity to get a look at Tommy Stevens under center, and the main contenders to replace Saquon Barkley at tailback, and how the defensive line and linebacker spots could respond to some offseason upheaval.

And, hey…Micah Parsons!

The game will air live on the Big Ten Network, but if you’re going take advantage of a rare strong weather forecast and head to Centre County, here’s a look which team will be featuring which players:

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