Big nonconference test awaits PSU

September, 14, 2013
9/14/13
7:00
AM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- In a few hours tailgaters will fire up their grills, players will daydream on the blue-bus ride to Beaver Stadium, and the Nittany Lions will face their toughest nonconference test of the season.

[+] EnlargeJamie Collings, Blake Bortles
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Blake Bortles could pose problems for Penn State's defense.
Penn State's win over Syracuse showed it wouldn't be a push-over, but today's game against Central Florida should help reveal just how good this team is. Blake Bortles is one of the best quarterbacks that Bill O'Brien's squad will face all season, and the Lions will undoubtedly be tested.

Bortles has gone more than 200 pass attempts without an interception. He threw for more than 3,000 yards last season. And O'Brien said he was an NFL-caliber quarterback. Throw all those facts together, mix them with tailback Storm Johnson and wideout Rannell Hall, and you have the recipe for a good game.

PSU is the six-point favorite here, but UCF is the tempting upset pick. First-year cornerbacks Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas should have their hands full, and their performances today should offer a glimpse at just how effective they can be against Big Ten competition.

For the Lions to come away with a win here, the secondary has to be on top of its game. But it's not just the DBs who will play an important role. The pass-rush is another key to the game. In three of UCF's four losses last season, the opposition combined for 10 sacks and a dozen quarterback hurries.

That means Deion Barnes should be a player to watch this game. But, of course, he's not the only one fans will be eyeing.

You can't mention the Penn State offense without true freshman Christian Hackenberg. The 18-year-old Virginia native has balanced the weight of 500,000 alumni on his shoulders and has impressed so far.

He's made a few mistakes, but he's rebounded and certainly doesn't look like a player who arrived on campus about three months ago. He's completing more than 70 percent of his passes, and he's second in the Big Ten in passing yards. For as lofty as expectations were for Hackenberg, few predicted those kinds of numbers.

Still, mistakes and turnovers are something PSU can ill-afford in close games. And Hackenberg will be counted on to limit both of those today. O'Brien played it very conservative against the Orange, opened it up against cupcake Eastern Michigan ... and today?

Today is Hackenberg's time to shine, the secondary's time to prove itself -- and Penn State's chance to show it will remain a force in the conference. Kickoff can't get here soon enough.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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