Penn State Nittany Lions: Dri Archer

Five things: Penn State-Kent State

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
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The Nittany Lions' defense will seek redemption at Beaver Stadium after a disappointing performance last week. Here's what we'll be watching in Penn State's final non-conference game before the Big Ten season.

Turning around the defense: PSU surrendered more than 500 yards to UCF, but the defense's test should be markedly easier this week. Kent State's top player, Darren Sproles-clone Dri Archer, is doubtful, and the Golden Flashes rank No. 108 in scoring. Kent State doesn't have much of a passing game, and its offensive line is overmatched. This is either the game that helps get PSU back on track ... or shows that PSU will be in for a long Big Ten season.

Hackenberg Fever: Christian Hackenberg has already won two Big Ten freshman of the week honors, and he could be in for a third this week. He has continually evolved since Week 1, and even Adam Rittenberg decided to drop Taylor Martinez on his fantasy team in favor of Hackenberg. The true freshman is completing more than 70 percent of his passes, and he'll likely pad his stats some against a not-so-good Kent State defense. At his current pace, he'd surpass Matt McGloin's single-season record of 3,266 passing yards in the final game.

Three-headed running attack: Who will lead the Nittany Lions in rushing this game? Well, you have about a one-in-three chance of being correct. PSU likes to involve each of its three scholarship tailbacks, and Bill O'Brien tends to go with the hot hand. Zach Zwinak gets most of the carries as the bruising, 240-pound back -- but Akeel Lynch is a one-cut, speedy change-of-pace runner. And Bill Belton actually leads the team in average yards per carry with 8.1. The trio has combined for 535 yards and eight touchdowns through the first three weeks.

Gambling O'Brien: For those who know the Penn State head coach, it comes as no surprise that only three teams this season have gone for it more on fourth down. It's expected. Of the 26 fourth downs that Penn State has faced, it has opted to go for the first down six times, punt 14 times and attempt a field goal six times. The Lions have converted all but one of their fourth-down attempts, which ties them for 10th in the country in conversion percentage. It's a strategy that has paid off for O'Brien, and it's a trend that doesn't look to end anytime soon.

Especially special teams: The Nittany Lions ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in every special teams category in 2012 but are at the middle or near the top this season. PSU is No. 6 in kickoff return average (22.7 yards), No. 3 in punt return average (14.6 yards) and has missed only one field goal -- a 57-yard attempt that fell just short. Eugene Lewis has added a lot to the return game and seems poised to break one eventually, while kicker Sam Ficken is the most improved player since last season. If Alex Butterworth can improve his leg strength and/or consistency, these special teams would be in great shape.

Big Ten predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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Three weeks in and we're all square in the season standings. Get ready for a tightly contested race most of the way.

The Week 4 slate isn't nearly as appetizing as its predecessor, although there are a few sneaky good games on the docket. Big Ten play officially begins at Camp Randall Stadium and 11 league squads are in action (Illinois is off).

Let's begin …

SAN JOSE STATE at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: Mitch Leidner could start at quarterback for the Gophers as Philip Nelson is questionable with a hamstring injury. That's not good news against a San Jose State team led by a future NFL draft pick in David Fales. The Spartans are the best team Minnesota has played, and I say they pull off the road upset. … San Jose State 24, Minnesota 20


Adam Rittenberg: A tough one here as the Gophers haven't been tested and San Jose State's Fales could stress a secondary already down one starter (Briean Boddy-Calhoun). There's some uncertainty on offense at quarterback, but I like the fact the Gophers have a full stable of running backs. Minnesota racks up 200 rush yards and three touchdowns to survive with a win. … Minnesota 27, San Jose State 24

FLORIDA A&M at OHIO STATE

Adam Rittenberg: The scoreboard operator will be busy as Buckeyes backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde combine for six touchdowns. The quarterbacks don't have to do much in this one as Ohio State rolls on to 4-0. … Ohio State 59, Florida A&M 7

Brian Bennett: This is a ludicrous matchup. Buckeyes can name their score. … Ohio State 63, Florida A&M 10


WESTERN MICHIGAN at IOWA

Brian Bennett: Oh boy. We get to watch Western Michigan take on a Big Ten team for the third time in four weeks. The first two times didn't go well for the Broncos, and Mark Weisman will add to their misery with 150 yards rushing. … Iowa 35, Western Michigan 7


Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern ran roughshod on Western Michigan and Iowa will do the same. Coach Kirk Ferentz gives Weisman a bit of a breather and spreads the ball around, as both Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri reach the end zone. Iowa pulls away in the third quarter. … Iowa 31, Western Michigan 10

MAINE at NORTHWESTERN

Adam Rittenberg: Expect another vanilla offensive game plan from Northwestern as the coaches save the goods for Week 6 against Ohio State. Five different Wildcats rush for touchdowns, including true freshman Warren Long, in the team's final tune-up before Big Ten play. … Northwestern 48, Maine 13

Brian Bennett: Please don't feed the Black Bears! Ibraheim Campbell makes it six games in a row with a pick as the Wildcats roll. … Northwestern 45, Maine 17


MICHIGAN STATE at NOTRE DAME

Brian Bennett: The Spartans finally have a bit of confidence and stability at quarterback, but Connor Cook still has a ways to go and this is a tough road spot. The Irish jump out early on a special-teams touchdown and manage to hold on in a defensive struggle. … Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's renewed offense comes in with confidence and scores early. But reality begins to set in on the road, and the Spartans stall midway through the second quarter. The defense keeps it close as always, but Notre Dame rallies late behind Tommy Rees and his receivers. … Notre Dame 19, Michigan State 16

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE at NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: The Huskers rest top quarterback Taylor Martinez (toe), and backups Ron Kellogg III and Tommy Armstrong both play and combine for three pass touchdowns. Imani Cross sparks the rushing attack in the second quarter and Nebraska fans can smile a little after a brutal eight-day stretch. … Nebraska 59, South Dakota State 14

Brian Bennett: The Jackrabbits are just what Nebraska needs right now. The Huskers get off to a sluggish start without a healthy Martinez, but Randy Gregory forces a fumble for a defensive score and the running game is too much for SDSU to handle. … Nebraska 38, South Dakota State 10


KENT STATE at PENN STATE

Brian Bennett: I think the Penn State defense comes out mad after last week's performance, and Kent State has had a tough time scoring so far this season. Zach Zwinak scores twice and the defense comes up with three turnovers. … Penn State 28, Kent State 10


Adam Rittenberg: Unless Blake Bortles secretly suits up for the Golden Flashes, Penn State should be OK in this one and takes control in the second quarter. Chalk up two more touchdown passes from Christian Hackenberg to Allen Robinson, and defensive end Deion Barnes finally shows up for the Lions. … Penn State 31, Kent State 20

PURDUE at WISCONSIN

Adam Rittenberg: No officiating blunders in this one as Wisconsin starts a bit slowly before getting Melvin Gordon and the run game going in the second half. Gordon records his first 20-carry performance and racks up 180 yards and two touchdowns. Purdue jumps out to an early lead but once again struggles in the fourth quarter. … Wisconsin 34, Purdue 21

Brian Bennett: Purdue hasn't been able to stop the Wisconsin running game the past couple of years, and it's no different in this one. Gordon and James White each eclipse 100 yards and the Badgers take out some frustration on the Boilermakers. ... … Wisconsin 42, Purdue 14


MICHIGAN at CONNECTICUT

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines haven't been quite the same team on the road as they have been at home for Brady Hoke, but Rentschler Field ain't exactly the Horseshoe. UConn doesn't have enough offensive talent to do much damage, and Devin Gardner bounces back with four total touchdowns and just one turnover. … Michigan 38, Connecticut 9


Adam Rittenberg: Last week's near disaster against Akron will heighten Michigan's focus. So, too, will a road game under the lights (even if it feels more like a home game). Gardner delivers a turnover-free performance, and Fitz Toussaint has a big game on the ground (130 rush yards, 2 TDs). … Michigan 35, Connecticut 17

MISSOURI at INDIANA

Adam Rittenberg: This should be the most entertaining game of the day, as both offenses will put up points. Maybe I'm buying into Indiana too much after last week's impressive performance, but I like what I saw from the defense, which does just enough against Mizzou and records a game-ending takeaway. Expect another balanced offensive performance as Tevin Coleman rushes for two more touchdowns. … Indiana 41, Missouri 37

Brian Bennett: I expect a wild shootout where the punters can probably chill out on the sidelines. Ultimately, I don't have enough faith in the Hoosiers’ defense and think James Franklin and Henry Josey will be too much to overcome. But take heart, Indiana fans: I've been wrong on your team each of the past two weeks. … Missouri 48, Indiana 42


You've heard from us. Now it's time to see what this week's guest picker has cooked up. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

We felt a little sorry for this guy after what happened last week in Tempe, Ariz. Garret Olsen from Madison, Wis., the floor is yours:
I am a born-and-raised Wisconsin fan and 2010 University of Wisconsin Grad in complete shock this week. I'm in need of a win. I attended my first Badger football game with my grandparents when I was 5 years old and have attended many more Badger games over the years with them. I never missed a home game during my time as an undergrad and traveled to many of the B1G stadiums and followed the Badgers to Indy and Pasadena. Each week my former Mifflin Street college roommate and I have a friendly pick-off between us and I can proudly report that I have beaten him the last two years. The blog is a daily read for me and I would be honored to pick alongside you and Adam and I promise not to botch any last-second pick situations.

Here are Garret's Week 4 selections:

San Jose State 35, Minnesota 34
Ohio State 45, Florida A&M 7
Iowa 28, Western Michigan 14
Northwestern 55, Maine 10
Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 10
Nebraska 42, South Dakota State 21
Penn State 33, Kent State 24
Wisconsin 49, Purdue 17
Michigan 34, Connecticut 13
Missouri 42, Indiana 38

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 31-5
Brian Bennett: 31-5
Guest pickers: 27-9

Planning for success: Penn State

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Cornerback Jordan Lucas swears it's not as bad as it sounds.

Yes, UCF compiled 507 yards and 34 points in shocking Penn State last week. But that's last week. And Lucas said his team was looking forward to Saturday's game against Kent State and a shot at some redemption.

"We just need to make plays," the first-year starter said. "We need to tackle better, as everybody knows. And when we have a guy wrapped up, we need to bring him down. That's really it. We need to execute."

The Golden Flashes don't have the same firepower as UCF. And their best player, Dri Archer, who's been compared to NFL tailback Darren Sproles, is "unlikely" to play this weekend. That creates the perfect recipe for a confidence-boost with this Penn State defense.

Kent State tailback Trayion Durham has averaged just 3 yards a carry so far this season. The Flashes are just 1-2 -- with their lone win coming against FCS school Liberty. And that was still a 17-10 struggle.

"We're just going to play a little bit more aggressively and stick to our keys," Lucas said.

This might offer Penn State's defense a bit more closure, or more confidence, but it won't do much to answer any lingering questions. Central Florida boasted a high-powered attack, which should help PSU prepare for the Big Ten season -- seeing as their three October opponents are averaging at least 42 points per game.

But Kent State? With a defense that surrendered 41 points to Bowling Green and an offense that's ranked No. 108 in scoring, the Flashes aren't exactly the best measuring stick for the Nittany Lions.

PSU is nearly a three-touchdown favorite this weekend. Will the Lions be tested? Probably not. But it should be a good pick-me-up after a loss.

"We just got to continue to lift each other up," safety Ryan Keiser said. "We just have to continue to do what we do."

This is Penn State's final game before a bye and the start of the conference season. It's a chance for Deion Barnes to pick up his first sack and start answering some questions about his play, another game for the outside linebackers to gain experience and a shot for Lucas and Co. to improve the secondary.

It's a different kind of game than Central Florida. But it's important for PSU to win this one big so it can be more self-assured in preparing against Indiana. This team knows what it has to do; it's just a matter now of executing.

"We have to do better," Bill O'Brien said, "and will do better."

Early look at Purdue Boilermakers 

July, 31, 2013
7/31/13
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Every day this week, NittanyNation will continue taking a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Purdue.

Darrell Hazell finished last season with one of the nation's most impressive coaching performances, leading Kent State to an 11-win season and coming within a heartbeat of an Orange Bowl berth.

Purdue's new head coach will need another one of the country's best performances just to get the Boilermakers into a bowl.

Hazell will need to break in a new quarterback and a new stable of receivers. Purdue will need to replace its best defensive player in DT Kawann Short. And it will need to fight past a tough non-conference slate that includes Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

Hazell's up for the challenge, but make no mistake about it: This is a rebuilding season for the Boilermakers. Hazell turned around a struggling Kent State squad from 5-7 in his debut season to 11-3 in Year 2. This will probably be a similar first season for Hazell record-wise, and there'll be plenty of bumps along the way.

Early look at the Ohio State Buckeyes 

July, 26, 2013
7/26/13
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Braxton MillerPatrick Smith/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller ran for 134 yards and accounted for three touchdowns vs. Penn State last season.
Every weekday over the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Ohio State.

This is the most difficult game on Penn State's schedule -- and for good reason.


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Early look at Kent State Golden Flashes 

July, 23, 2013
7/23/13
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Every weekday over the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Kent State.

The Golden Flashes boast one of the most dynamic tailbacks in all of college football.

If we believed what our mothers told us -- and didn't say anything unless we had something nice to say -- that would be the end of this preview, however. After a Cinderella season where Kent State came within a heartbeat of the Orange Bowl, the Flashes' luck has run out.

Gone is head coach Darrell Hazell, who left for Purdue. Gone are three offensive linemen who combined for more than 120 starts. Gone is the four-year starting QB. Gone is three-quarters of the secondary.

Gone is just about every reason Kent State could be considered a threat. Except for tailback/slot receiver Dri Archer. This team was a threat last season -- but this season? The Flashes are somewhere between Eastern Michigan and Syracuse in terms of talent.


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It’s Rankings Week at NittanyNation. Through Thursday, we’ll rank some aspect touching on PSU heading into the 2013 season. Today we're ranking the top offensive players Penn State will face this season.

Ranking the opposing offensive players

1. QB Braxton Miller (Ohio State): He finished fifth in the Heisman voting last year, led his team to an undefeated record, threw for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for another 1,271. Need I go on? Miller is one of the most dangerous players in the country, and he's what makes this Buckeyes' offense so good.


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National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert breaks down what No. 12 cornerback Garrett Taylor - once a Michigan commit - means to James Franklin's defense now that Taylor has committed to the Nittany Lions.
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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12