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Penn State Football: Best Case And Worst Case For Each Game

by on August 23, 2016 2:00 PM

A lot can happen in 12 games. Heartbreak, upsets, unexpected heroes and moments that can transcend the season and be remembered for years. That's what makes every season so unique, and so much fun to look forward to. No matter how many position breakdowns you do or preseason predictions you make, it doesn't matter what you think, just what happen.

But despite this Week 1 can't be just a few days away without taking a wild guess at the best and worst case scenarios for each of Penn State's 12 games this season. And yes winning is the best case and losing is the worst case for the Nittany Lions, but that aside here are the best and worst case scenarios for Penn State football this season week-by-week.

Kent State

Best Case: Penn State comes out of the gates with the exact opposite performance that the Nittany Lions had against Temple last year. The offense shows all the hallmarks of something new and something that could bring the program out of the rut it has been stuck in. Joe Moorhead is already a fan favorite and Saquon Barkley rips off 125 yards before sitting out most of the second half. The only bad thing is that Trace McSorley puts Penn State ahead by 25 and Tommy Stevens comes in and has a scoring drive of his own, keeping quarterback conversations open heading into Week 2. 

Worst Case: The Nittany Lions are clearly trying to do something different on offense but it's still very much a work in progress. The first three drives don't last longer than five plays before McSorley finally gets Penn State on the board with a scramble from 15-yards out. Barkley does the rest and Penn State wins 24-3 in a game that could and shouldn't have ever been this close. A bumpy game under a new coordinator isn't a huge deal, but with Pitt looking at the Nittany Lions just seven days later, things will have to improve in a hurry.

@ Pitt

Best Case: Between a large contingent of Penn State fans and Saquon Barkley, the Nittany Lions squeak by winning 17-13 in a game that has as many altercations in the stands as punts on the field. This game is won by the defense, a unit that wasn't really tested by Kent State but is getting good contributions from linebacker depth and a timely interception by Marcus Allen. Penn State's defensive front is tested by Pitt's running game but manages to keep the group under 150 yards total. It wasn't a pretty game, but winning is all that matters here.

Worst Case: On paper Pitt is probably the better team heading into the game and the Panthers are the better team on the field too. This game isn't a blowout but Penn State's learning curve is too steep to win this game on the road. Barkley is held in check and McSorley finally shows signs of being a new guy under center. A few defensive miscues give Pitt an opening and the Panthers strike. 24-17 is close but it's more than enough for Pitt to take home the bragging rights despite a packed house, half full of Penn State fans. 


Best Case: Sitting at 2-0 Penn State has a chance to open the year 3-0 and sweep in-state teams on the schedule. The Owls had the upper hand last year but this team is significantly different and it shows. The game is close because Temple isn't a bad program anymore, but the Nittany Lions have too much talent and are finding an early season stride in the offense. Barkley finally breaks the 200 yard mark and Saeed Blacknall finally has the game everyone has been waiting for with 110 yards receiving. The rest of the season might be a question mark but Penn State is 3-0 and 2-0 against the big names in PA, so that's not a bad place to be.

Worst Case: Win or lose against Pitt this is a trap game. Penn State either is coming off an emotional win or an emotional loss and that doesn't spell great focus for a noon kick. The Owls are eager to prove last year wasn't a mistake and even with plenty of new faces on the team Temple manages to throw the first punch going up 10-0. Penn State ties it up but costly turnovers plague the Nittany Lions who fall 17-13. Saquon Barkley has a solid game but can't do enough all on his own, McSorley gets a final drive attempt but it looks a lot like the bowl game and comes up short. Penn State is probably 2-1 at this point but a 1-2 opening is a very real possibility.

@ Michigan

Best Case: Michigan is a playoff favorite but if the Wolverines are going to lose it will be earlier in the season, probably not later. That's not to say that Penn State has a real shot at being the team to do it, but if the Nittany Lions are clicking on offense and can catch Michigan on its own off day anything is possible. The best case is Penn State keeps it close like the last time the Nittany Lions made the trip to Ann Arbor. Saquon Barkley completes his big game introductions having sliced up Ohio State already and doing the same to Michigan. Penn State makes it interesting but as expected the Wolverines aren't going to let a season of promise slip away so early in the year.

Worst Case: Michigan isn't fooling around and for as many positive strides as Penn State has taken in the past three weeks there is a reason why one team is growing and the other is a playoff contender. Penn State is within 10 at the half and gets within three early in the third quarter but that's it for the positives. Michigan adjusts better than a still young Penn State team and it's 28-13 in the blink of an eye. Barkley can't repeat his me-against-the-world performance he had against Ohio State and it's all Wolverines. Tommy Stevens gets some late time under center.


Best Case: The Gophers are better than people are used to expecting from Minnesota but Penn State is finding its stride on offense and a chance to pick up a fourth win on the year doesn't get passed by. This game finally showcases Penn State's deep receiving corps and Saquon Barkley is held under a 100 yards as Andre Robinson gets into the mix. Miles Sanders also notches his first TD of the year and everything is coming up great in Happy Valley.

Worst Case: Minnesota has been one of the more bipolar teams in the conference recently, putting together great offensive games coupled with inexplicable performances. The good Minnesota shows up and a defense that isn't as deep as Penn State fans like to thing finally shows a little wear and tear coming out of a brutal Michigan beating. It's a close game but Penn State's wins so far this year have been the result of better talent rather than better execution. The Gophers have the latter today.


Best Case: Penn State rarely loses on Homecoming and a whole new bunch of visiting fans get a glimpse at why Saquon Barkley is already one of Penn State's greatest. Maryland is feisty as usual but this game isn't the fireworks display of last year's contest. The Terps keep it close and Will Likely breaks a long punt return but other than that it's all Nittany Lions. A 28-17 win is a fun watch, but a late Maryland score is all that really makes the score "close".

Worst Case: For as confident as everyone has been in Penn State's defense not missing as step under new coordinator Brent Pry, he hasn't been able to repeat the magic on the defensive front and the Nittany Lions aren't nearly deep enough at linebacker. It's not that Penn State's defense is bad, but there just aren't enough playmakers to make up for a still growing but not yet matured offense. Maryland takes advantage of this and gets ahead early and Penn State can't quite get all the pieces together for another win. The trend continues and neither team has won at home in this series.

Ohio State

Best Case: Penn State needed the bye week in the worst way and it paid dividends. The Nittany Lions come out and for the first time in seemingly forever throw the first punch against Ohio State. Joe Moorhead's offense finally showcases what a new Penn State can look like and gets a reloading Ohio State defense on its heels. That doesn't mean the Buckeyes are going to get knocked out, but this is a game for Penn State more than simply surviving long enough to possibly steal the win in the end. Ohio State takes a late third quarter lead but Saquon Barkley has a moment and puts Penn State ahead by three. It's 2005 all over again and JT Barrett gets a face full of Garrett Sickels to pick up the win. Penn State catches Ohio State on a "down" year, but a win is a win.

Worst Case: It doesn't matter that Ohio State is reloading, it's Ohio State. Everyone forgets that JT Barrett has already played at Beaver Stadium before and he reminds fans early and often. It's still just a 10 point game at halftime but Penn State fans have seen this movie a million times before. The Nittany Lions get within a touchdown early in the second half but there isn't enough in the tank to make up for what Ohio State brings to the table. Penn State's offense hangs in there and makes it interesting but Ohio State is just the better team and nobody really doubted this in the first place.

@ Purdue

Best Case: No offense to the Boilermakers but the best case scenario is a Penn State win without any injuries. Penn State struggles early because its a road game in a dead stadium but otherwise makes enough plays to pull ahead. This is a program in flux against a program that is becoming increasingly stable. It might be an ugly game at times knocking out the cobwebs, but Penn State wins and everyone goes home healthy.

Worst Case: McSorley is injured against Ohio State and that means it's Tommy Stevens time. Stevens is serviceable but there's a reason why he isn't the starter in the first place. Penn State can't quite get the wheels turning and a circus catch puts Purdue up late. This isn't the worst loss under James Franklin but it's another tape that might get buried. The offense is still a work in progress, going from looking great to looking like 3-and-out in 45 seconds is the goal. Hello 2015 Philadelphia Eagles.


Best Case: The Hawkeyes start the season out a Top 15 team but really never looked that good. Even so they manage to stay ranked by the time they reach Happy Valley. Joe Moorhead dials up another solid offensive gameplan and James Franklin gets his win over a ranked opponent, but really Iowa is ranked thanks more to a the virtue of a strong start and a week conference slate but it is what it is. Somehow McSorley hasn't broken the 200 yard mark yet and finally does as Saquon Barkley closes in on back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons.

Worst Case: Iowa isn't ranked by mistake and the Hawkeyes follow up a strong 2015 with a solid repeat performance. Penn State keeps it close because Iowa isn't exactly an offensive powerhouse but Penn State's battle to stay above .500 continues on for another week. Jake Cooper makes his starting debut at linebacker in place of an injured Jason Cabinda as the defensive stays together by glue and group hugs alone. 

@ Indiana 

Best Case: Penn State faces a more experienced Zander Diamont but nothing about the senior's play really puts the fear of God into the Nittany Lion secondary. Two interceptions held seal the deal and that's all it takes to pick up a key win in Indiana. This game is more of a defensive showcase for Penn State who is starting to see new stars being born on the defensive front. Barkley has another 200 yards and its 1K yet again for the sophomore. 

Worst Case: Penn State is about as good as it can get this season and that's just not good enough to avoid at least one loss that it shouldn't have. Indiana gets the honor this year of the unexpected loss and Kevin Wilson saves his job as Diamont continues to have a solid senior campaign. James franklin isn't on the hot seat, but the positive steps forward are starting to seem like a thing of the past no matter how much fun the offense is to watch.

@ Rutgers

Best Case: At this point in the season Penn State has figured out the new offense and is moving to ball as well as it ever has the past three years. Rutgers is more question marks than answers and Saquon Barkley has another standout game against his old school. Juwan Johnson has his own coming out party with a touchdown and 100 yards receiving. All told it's the most complete game Penn State has on the year and the Nittany Lions roll to 3-0 against Rutgers in the Big Ten.

Worst Case: Junior Robert Martin as a Harrisburg native, isn't afraid of what Penn State brings to the table and rushes through the Nittany Lions' defensive front en route to an early lead. Penn State gets the lead back but this time around it's the Scarlet Knights putting together a late game drive to steal the victory. Barkley is banged up and can't put our his usual production and Penn State is closing in on yet another losing record in November under James Franklin.

Michigan State

Best Case: Sparty finally hits the downward incline after years of pushing for a title shot. For as good as Mark Dantonio is at coaching up underrated players, there are just too many question marks on this year's squad. Penn State finally gets a shot at upending a playoff team and does so with a strong senior day outing. Barkley closes in on 1,500 yards and Penn State's offense clicks in a lopsided victory and finally a bit of momentum near the end of the season. The Nittany Lions' defense is healthy again and it shows with four sacks and two interceptions. Tyler O'Connor is plenty capable at quarterback, but he's no Connor Cook.

Worst Case: Losing a longtime starting quarterback isn't a great problem to have but Michigan State hasn't been playing some of the best football in the nation by mistake. Dantonio does it again and crafts another Big Ten title contender. By this point in the year Penn State has maxed out and for all the positive strides, doesn't quite have the answers to Michigan State's defense which might be the best in recent memory in East Lansing. It's a close defensive battle, but Sparty is looking for a final win for good bowl position and they get it done.

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