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Penn State Football: Looking Back At Early Season Predictions

by on December 09, 2013 11:30 AM

Sporting predictions are made to start conversation. And they're made so fans and observers can look back after the season and wonder why they ever felt like they could predict the future.

Here are a few of the predictions made early in the year and how they stood up against the test of time.

What We Said: Zach Zwinak will rush for 947 yards and 8 TDs on 190 carries.

"Even though there is little doubt Zwinak is capable of performing at a high level, players who have breakout seasons will always be pressured to repeat or improve on past performances. Zwinak will look to do just that in 2013, and with a few extra bodies in the backfield he ought to stay fresher for longer as the season drags on. Division of labor might see his numbers decline but not for a lack of effort or effective running."

Actual: Zwinak ran for 989 yards and 12 TDs on 210 carries.

While this prediction is close, it was largely because of Zwinak's fumbling stretch that limited his action on the field. Zwinak ran for close to his predicted total -- but that had far more to do with mid-season struggles than strictly division of labor.

Accurate?: Close enough

The Schedule: Early in the season we predicted the best and worst case results for every Big Ten game on Penn State's schedule.

Indiana: Loss

What We Said: Worst Case: Penn State's pass defense looked a little shaky against Blake Bortles of UCF and Indiana's 348 yards per game through the air holds true for another week. Even though Indiana has a bit of a controversy at quarterback, the passing attack is too much for a Ryan Keiser-less Penn State secondary. Hackenberg struggles early and can't dig Penn State out of a first quarter hole. Deion Barnes goes missing and Penn State struggles to pressure the quarterback."

Actual: Penn State struggled with Indiana's pass defense after falling behind 7-0 in the first quarter. Christian Hackenberg had a fine game and Penn State took a third quarter lead, but Indiana proved to be too much for the Nittany Lions to handle. Brandon Felder ends up being missed more on offense than Ryan Keiser is on defense.

Accurate?: Close enough

Michigan: Win

What We Said: "Best Case: A Homecoming meeting that could be one to remember. On paper Michigan is the better team but the No. 19 Wolverines haven't really won a game with ease since the season opener against Central Michigan. A solid 41-30 victory over Notre Dame has been long forgotten thanks to close 28-24 and 24-21 wins over Akron and UConn. A sellout crowd in Beaver Stadium can make this a tough night for a very hit-or-miss Michigan team. If Penn State can rattle the Wolverines early and get on the board first, an upset isn't out of the question. Devin Gardner has been average at quarterback -- usually more threatening when he tucks it and runs. Contain him and you have a chance to win. It's all easier said than done, but as Akron and UConn showed already, hanging with the Wolverines isn't impossible. Penn State repeats what Akron and UConn did with balanced offensive attack but finishes the job, pulling off the upset. The legend of Christian Hackenberg grows."

Actual: Four overtimes seems to qualify for a Homecoming to remember. Michigan turned the ball over and Penn State threw the first punch going up 21-10 by the half. Gardner was solid under center but was more effective with 121 yards on the ground. Penn State almost let this one slip away if not for some late game heroics by Hackenberg and Allen Robinson.

Accurate?: Yes.

Ohio State: Loss

What We Said: "Worst Case: Playing on the road is hard. Playing in Columbus is even harder. Penn State struggles to convert third downs and Ohio State exploits a young and mistake prone Penn State secondary. Braxton Miller is making a late Heisman push and this night helps his cause. Ohio State will play four of the last five games of the season on the road, so winning against Penn State starts the trip off on the right foot. O'Brien has his troops ready for battle, but the Buckeyes are ranked No. 4 in the nation for a reason."

Actual: "Playing on the road is hard" might be the most polite way to say "Penn State is going to get pounded." The Nittany Lions actually converted more third downs in this game than in any other loss, but Miller had his way with Penn State's defense and this game was over before it ever really started.

Accurate?: Yes, but you could see it coming.

Illinois: Win

What We Said: "Best Case: Illinois is a better team than it was in 2012 but heads to Penn State after a three game stretch against Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. It seems unlikely that the Illini would be undefeated in Big Ten play by the time they travel to Happy Valley giving O'Brien plenty of valuable tape to watch. Add in the fact that Penn State fans are still a little annoyed about Illinois trying to recruit away Nittany Lion players and the crowd might be a little extra juiced for this one. Hackenberg has learned from the trip to Ohio State and fires off his best day in Big Ten play. Nathan Scheelhaase struggles in the pocket and Penn State's defense is rounding into form."

Actual: Penn State won, but Hackenberg didn't have a great game and Penn State's defense probably made this more of a game than it should have been. There is little doubt that Illinois --even with a horrible record-- is a better team, but this game shouldn't have been decided in overtime.

Accurate?: No

Minnesota: Loss

What We Said: "Worst Case: Minnesota's 4-1 start was no mistake and a win over Indiana the week before gets the Gophers' bowl eligible earlier than usual. The Gophers average 231 yards a game on the ground and that attack continues to chip away at Penn State's defense. Penn State still isn't scoring in bunches and a stout Minnesota defense doesn't give up more than 24 for at least the fifth time all year."

Actual: Minnesota was as good as advertised, but Penn State shot itself in the foot with turnovers and mistakes more than Minnesota truly outplayed Penn State. Hackenberg wasn't great and Zwinak isn't a big-play running back enough for a 150 hard earned yards to matter. Minnesota was balanced and the defense didn't give up 24 or more points for the fifth time all year.

Accurate?: Close enough

Purdue: Win

What We Said: "Best Case: Purdue isn't very good, having beaten Indiana State by only six points. The Boilermakers lost a close game to Notre Dame but a rivalry meeting can bring out the best in a team. Purdue averages only 17 points a game, and playing on the road doesn't help matters any. Penn State has beaten everyone but Ohio State and is looking to match last season's win total two weeks early. The Nittany Lions are strong out of the gate and Purdue never sniffs a real shot at winning. Hackenberg is strong and the three-headed tandem of Belton, Lynch and Zwinak are able to run all over the Purdue defense."

Actual: Purdue made it a game for a few minutes in the early second half, but Penn State was never really in danger of losing control of the game. Zwinak and Belton pounded away for a total of four touchdowns and an early 14-0 lead makes this a fairly "as expected" game. Hackenberg was solid, but didn't need to do much with the running attack working so well.

Accurate?: Yes

Nebraska: Loss

What We Said: "Worst Case: Nebraska can put up points and Penn State can't match the pace. The Nittany Lion defense is better but hasn't been able to really stop teams when it is needed the most. The Cornhuskers have slowly climbed up the ranks and a favorable final few games makes winning in Happy Valley even more important. Wins, losses, and injuries have all piled up and despite the good NCAA news weeks earlier, Penn State is a battered team. Hackenberg gets the team close but time runs out on the comeback with a late Nebraska touchdown."

Actual: This prediction was made under the assumption that the Cornhuskers would have Taylor Martinez under center. They didn't, and in large part that contributed to a closer game that Penn State eventually lost in overtime. Penn State's defense played OK, but the Nittany Lions couldn't finish the job after taking a 20-17 fourth quarter lead.

Accurate?: No

Wisconsin: Win

What We Said: "Best Case: Minnesota knocks off the high-flying Badgers the week before and Wisconsin comes into the final regular season game of the year lacking direction. Penn State is able to slow down a talented rushing attack led by Melvin Gordon and makes a few key interceptions. Hackenberg is turning out to be the real deal and takes advantage of a Wisconsin defense capable of giving up a big play. Penn State may not be bowl eligible, but wins over Wisconsin to end two straight seasons is plenty to enjoy at the end of the year."

Actual: Minnesota didn't beat Wisconsin, but Penn State was able to create a few interceptions at key times and Hackenberg had the best game of his career. The Nittany Lion defense slowed down Wisconsin's multi-back attack and it's 7-5 for Penn State in 2013.

Accurate?: Yes

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