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Penn State Football: 100 Days Away, You Can Talk Yourself Into A Few Different Win Totals

by on May 23, 2019 2:40 PM

One hundred days from Penn State's opening kick against Idaho on Aug. 31, how far away the season feels is a matter of perspective.

For State College, most of the student population has drained from the roads and sidewalks, a few weeks of calm before summer sessions and the slow jog toward Art Fest weekend.

To the town 100 days is a warm June and a scorching July away. Fireworks and farmers markets, Spikes baseball and rounds of golf. The shadow of Beaver Stadium is always there, but its presence is less ominous this time of year.

For James Franklin and his staff, 100 days isn't nearly enough time. This would be true any season, but perhaps this one most of all. The page has turned on a chapter of three-straight seasons where your expectations were more or less met. The Nittany Lions won a Big Ten title, were nationally relevant and in 2018-19 managed to cobble together a respectable campaign.

Now the things Penn State could lean on are gone. No more Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders or Tommy Stevens. Familiar faces on defense made the jump to the NFL and a finally stable offensive line has lost some pieces.

None of this is inherently bad, but continuity and familiarity are assets not to be overlooked in a sport where sometimes the reason you win is simply because you had the fewest things change between December and August.

It should be said that predictions are always the kind of exercises that are based on very little tangible evidence but rather a much broader view of the situation. Nobody really knows how Sean Clifford will play.  For all anyone knows he will break all of Penn State's single-season passing records. The same could be said for any given player who has not seen substantial time and will be expected to do so in 2019.

But let us assume for the sake of argument that new faces are somewhere between awful and Saquon. We won't assume the worst but won't predict otherworldly play either.

So I would set the win count at 8.5 regular season win and work up or down from there.

From the outset it's worth noting Penn State's schedule is basically a variation of the 2017 schedule. The Nittany Lions have to play at Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State this season. They have to play three of four on the road with the only home contest against a Michigan program that has vaulted itself into the "Probably won't be bad but I have no idea what that means" category of college football.

If you figure the non conference schedule should be three wins that leaves games against Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, Indiana and Minnesota as the easier games to predict.

PJ Fleck and the Gophers are a hard out at home and Rondale Moore is the Boilmaker's hybrid of Saquon and KJ Hamler. Neither of those two games are obviously wins but let's assume recent history holds here. The same can be said for Maryland and Rugters who just haven't shown that they're going to give Penn State a run the past few years.

So that's at least eight wins, but don't color me completely shocked if Indiana or Purdue make you sweat it out.

From there it's all the big guys and James Franklin's record against Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa is what it is. The Buckeyes don't lose at home and for as good as this Penn State team may or may not ending up being by late November, there isn't a compelling reason to say "well yes of course they'll win that game" in May.

Iowa is a hell of a place to play and Michigan State is well coached. On good years Penn State would be happy to split these meetings on the road, and that wouldn't be a shock, but lets say this team is going to lose at least one game it shouldn't have. Be it against these two teams or one of the teams mentioned earlier.

Still at eight wins.

That leaves Michigan. One imagines that Penn State will beat a Wolverine program that has had mixed results in big games. That being said, Penn State has only done slightly better in those moments as of late.

We'll give it to them, a nod to the home team, now it's nine wins heading to the bowl.

All told there are worse things if you're a Penn State fan. The Nittany Lions' defense ought to be very good, and there is no reason to think Penn State's offense will be bad, we just don't know enough about it right now. After 2018 I don't know if there is a good reason to assume it will be great against the the best of the Big Ten East, but there is a enough turnover that plenty could change in that area.

Point being, if Franklin and company are heading into a bowl game with a chance to make it four-straight seasons of nine or more wins, that would be plenty rarified air. Equally true, it doesn't take much in the way of mental gymnastics to talk this schedule into eight wins, plenty of the assumed wins above aren't instantly obvious. Especially if Penn State's offense has some 2014-15 era hiccups.

If I was a fan I would probably be happy with anything more than seven wins this year heading into a bowl game. There are worse things that treading water during a transition year. There are plenty of programs that don't have that luxury, and as long as Penn State is building towards another push, settling for 8-9 wins in a down year is far from the worst way to go about it.

The good thing, in a 100 days we can start to stop guessing.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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