Enough people at Penn State and Smeal College of Business know that I'm an avid Penn State fan that on the first day of classes, I'm constantly asked, "So what do you think, will Penn State be good this year?" My answer for this season is, "Frankly I don't know...ask me after October 3". That's when we play Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign.
Pre-season polls rank us #8 or #9. But of course that reflects last year, not this year. We have a favorable schedule. We play 5 out of our first 6 games at Beaver Stadium. We play our toughest opponents toward the end of the season.
We start with Akron, then we play Syracuse, then Temple. We should beat these teams easily at home, as long as the Penn State team keeps their focus on winning and doesn't overlook any team. Penn State simply has more depth and talent than these teams can muster. Although we could we be surprised - think Appalachian State and Michigan a few years ago.
Then we start our Big Ten Schedule, with Iowa at home. Iowa will give us some clue as to what sort of team we have. Iowa beat us last year, our only loss, and it was a game we should have won - a painful loss for all Penn State fans, especially those of us who were present. So the team will want to avenge that loss, the game's set for 8 p.m. and has been declared a "White House". The students and the crowd will be pumped, and most likely by kickoff a bit "giddy" from tailgating all day. It will be very noisy, and the crowd will be a huge factor. It will be tough for Iowa to win, because of this home field advantage. But it's possible.
Here's where a weak schedule for the first three games really hurts. The Penn State team could be overconfident if they blow out their first three opponents. They may not yet know what their weaknesses are. Iowa has enough talent - and confidence based on last year's improbable win - to upset Penn State at Beaver Stadium. It's a dangerous game. But my gut says we'll pull out a win.
My biggest concern right now is Penn State at Illinois on October 3. Our first away game. Last time we were there, the stadium was being renovated, and seats were limited. Now it's complete, with 5,000 new seats. Ron Zook is a good coach. Illinois had a 5-7 losing season last year. But Juice Williams is a huge threat and so is Martez Wilson, a junior linebacker who has been named to the Butkus Award watch list.
If Illinois is energized in front of a sold out crowd, and Penn State goes to that game "flat" because it's been relatively easy so far in the season, then it could be a loss on the road. Anything can happen in the Big Ten!
Then there's always the possiblity of injuries. Or flu. The team, especially our quarterback Darryl Clark, needs to stay healthy. They can't overlook ANY game.
So...ask me after October 3. Only then, if we're still undefeated, will I start getting excited about our season prospects.