Saturday, August 31, 2013
Penn State-Syracuse pregame ponderables
By Brian Bennett
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Greetings from MetLife Stadium, home of the 2014 Super Bowl. But more importantly for our purposes, home of New York's College Classic.
That's the official billing for today's game between Syracuse and Penn State. The Orange are technically the home team here, but the real battle for New York City might commence next year when the Big Ten tries to elbow into the market with Rutgers. Today could be a good trial run for that, and I saw plenty of Penn State tailgaters in the parking lots this morning. (I think I saw Jimmy Hoffa out there, too, but that is unconfirmed.)
That's all off-the-field stuff, however. This should be an excellent opening game that answers some questions we've had all offseason for both teams. The Nittany Lions debut a new quarterback -- reportedly Christian Hackenberg, but we might not get an official announcement before kickoff -- and open Year 2 of the Bill O'Brien era, minus some of the iconic senior leaders from last season. Syracuse has a new head coach in Scott Shafer -- known to Big Ten fans as a former Michigan defensive coordinator in one ugly year under Rich Rodriguez -- plus a new league (the ACC) and its own new starting quarterback, the identity of whom also is being kept under wraps.
What should we expect of Hackenberg today? Don't forget he is an 18-year-old true freshman, though a wildly talented one. With most coaches, I'd say that the game plan would be conservative with a first time starter in there. But O'Brien is so aggressive and fearless that I wouldn't be surprised to see Hackenberg throw it 20-to-25 times and take some deep shots. When you've got Allen Robinson and those tight ends, why not?
The heat wave that is gripping much of Big Ten country today has mostly spared us, as temperatures are expected to be about 83 degrees. It will still be muggy, but compared to some other places, it's not too bad. Of course, you worry about Penn State's depth as it goes full speed in the humid conditions, but I don't expect it to be too big of an issue. Both teams have to deal with it, after all.
I'm more interested in seeing how Penn State's defense looks, especially in the secondary, and how Syracuse rebuilds its offense in the post-Doug Marrone, post-Ryan Nassib era. A lot of questions will begin to be answered today.