Another football season is here, and Penn State could have gotten an easier Week 1 draw.
Instead of hosting an overmatched mid-major school on a Saturday afternoon, Penn State is playing on the road at night against a Big Ten team that won nine games last season.
After going 11-11 over its past two seasons, a Week 1 loss would be disastrous for coach James Franklin and Penn State. But a win over a respectable conference foe on the road would be a solid way to start 2022.
Here is what Penn State has going for and against it heading into Thursday night’s game with Purdue.
WHAT PENN STATE HAS GOING FOR IT
Penn State is favored on the road for a reason.
Purdue is a long way from the dumpster fire that it was before Jeff Brohm took over as head coach after the 2016 season. The Boilermakers went 9-4 last season and capped off the year with a thrilling overtime win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
But the Boilers are losing a lot from last year’s squad. It’s best players on each side of the ball— receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis— are in the NFL now, and those were two of the best players in the Big Ten, let alone just on Purdue’s team.
Along with losing Bell, Purdue’s receiving corps got another gut punch over the summer when Milton Wright, who would have been the team’s leading returning receiver, got kicked off the team for not meeting academic standards.
O’Connell is a fine quarterback, and Purdue’s passing game will probably always be a strength as long as Jeff Brohm is the head coach and his brother Brian is the offensive coordinator.
WHAT PENN STATE HAS GOING AGAINST IT
For one, Penn State is 11-11 over the past two seasons (in case you’ve didn’t know) so rarely, if ever, should a Big Ten road game been seen as a guaranteed win.
Another concern is the quarterback position. If Sean Clifford plays as well as he did before he got hurt against Iowa last October, then he could be just as good as O’Connell, if not better.
But he plays more like he did after the injury, Purdue has the edge at the game’s most important position.
Also, because it’s Week 1, we don’t know if Penn State has solved its issues from last season.
Is the offensive line better?
Will the three tight ends meet expectations?
How good will Clifford be?
Can Penn State run the ball?
How will Penn State adjust to Manny Diaz’s defense right away?
None of those questions have answers yet, and Purdue is good enough to where, if the answers (at least right now) are ones that wouldn’t please Penn State fans, that could lead to an 0-1 start.
Penn State has its work cut out for it, but I think it starts 1-0, and that’s because I think this team is better than last years.
I believe Clifford is a good quarterback (not great, but good enough to win). I believe Penn State’s offensive line and running game will be much better. I don’t see the defense struggling to get used to Diaz.
Purdue’s good, and if these teams met Week 8 instead of Week 1, I think that would better suit a Boilers team that is inexperienced in some eras.
But the game will be played Week 1, and to me, that’s another thing that favors Penn State.
PENN STATE 31, PURDUE 21