Previewing the 2021 Penn State Football Schedule Part One

Part one of the 2021 Penn State Football schedule preview highlights Big Ten West opponents Wisconsin and Iowa and a White Out against Auburn.

Being halfway through July puts everyone one step closer to the 2021 college football season. There are less than 10 Saturdays until Penn State Football is back on a TV near you. Last season was a shortened one due to COVID-19 and the Nittany Lions did not do well. They decided not to attend a Bowl Game that would have put the team at .500. Instead, Penn State finished the season 4-5. The shortened season was highlighted by injuries to key offensive players that the Nittany Lions just couldn’t overcome. It’s never good to dwell on the past, so let’s look at the 2021 Penn State Football Schedule.

2021 Penn State Football Schedule Part One

The season starts off with a big test against Big Ten West foe Wisconsin. The problem? It is in Wisconsin. After that game though it is four home games for the Nittany Lions, including the newly announced White Out game. The first half of the season ends at Iowa. Let’s take a look at these first-half opponents.

Game One: Wisconsin

The first game of the season is usually someone from a smaller FBS conference or even an FCS school, however, this year Penn State starts the season at arguably the toughest Big Ten West team. Wisconsin is generally a strong team that leads the West. Penn State last played the Badgers in 2018 and won the contest 22-10. Two years prior the two faced off in the Big Ten Championship in 2016 with Penn State coming out on top 38-31.

While Penn State didn’t have a great 2020 season, Wisconsin didn’t either. The Badgers finished the shortened season 4-3. Only playing seven games. The seventh win came in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against Wake Forest, 42-28. The Nittany Lions have not lost to the Badgers since the end of the 2011 season. Could this be the year? Penn State will have to bring its best to beat a Wisconsin team at 12:00 pm ET that is already historically a tough test.

Game Two: Ball State

Normally this would be the first game of the season. Kind of like a tune-up to work through some things before getting into the heavy load of the schedule. However, that is not how the 2021 schedule is going to go. After Wisconsin, the Nittany Lions head back home to Beaver Stadium for the first full-capacity game in a very long time. They will face the Ball State Cardinals who are slated to repeat as MAC champions. The Cardinals also have a player named to the Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List. Fifth-year wide receiver Justin Hall also made the list in 2018. The Biletnikoff Award recognizes college football’s outstanding receiver. Hall will start the 2021 season leading the nation’s active players in career receptions. He also has at least one reception in every single game he has appeared in. That is 43 straight games.

Hall and the Cardinals will enter Happy Valley to likely a very loud crowd for a lesser-scheduled game. The Penn State fans are hungry for a packed Beaver Stadium and Ball State just happens to be the unlucky recipient of the return home. Ball State will have to face Penn State’s own Biletnikoff Award Preseason Watch List designee in Jahan Dotson. Dotson led the Big Ten in receiving yards in 2020 with 884 on 52 catches. He also tallied eight touchdowns in nine games. The senior was also named to the Maxwell Award Watch List for the best all-around college football player. It will be fun to watch these two square off in September.

Game Three: Auburn

The White Out returns to Beaver Stadium on September 18th at 7:30 pm ET. This is something that Penn State fans, players, and coaches have been waiting for for over a year. If the Nittany Lions can get over the hump that is Wisconsin to start the season, they should be undefeated entering this night game. Auburn should also be undefeated entering this game due to the first two games on its schedule being Akron and Alabama State.

If Auburn Head Coach Bryan Harsin is thinking about the White Out he didn’t allude to it at SEC media days. Harsin stated, “We’re getting ready for September 4th against Akron. That is the focus at Auburn. I know the other games we play. I know the other teams on the schedule, but you’ve got to win the first one.” Auburn quarterback Bo Nix played in 11 games in 2020, threw for 2,415 yards, 12 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He will have two games to warm up before trekking north to Penn State so the Nittany Lion secondary better be ready.

Game Four: Villanova

This game is meant to be a buffer before the start of Big Ten play. However, if Penn State enters the game against Villanova with two losses, it won’t be a happy occasion. The Nittany Lions shouldn’t have an issue beating the Wildcats, but fans could quickly lose interest in attending games in person if Penn State sits at 1-2. The novelty of being back in Beaver Stadium could wear off quickly if this is the start of the season. Regardless, this should be an easy win for Head Coach James Franklin and company.

Game Five: Indiana

The start, or continuation, of Big Ten play, is always an agonizing and exciting time of the year. The Big Ten East is tough to get through in one piece and Indiana is no exception. The Nittany Lions started the shortened season in 2020 with a one-point loss in Indiana. In the last three years, the game has been decided by seven points or less. The Nittany Lions have a home field on their side for this one, but if they enter the game 2-2 there is no telling how this one will go.

Game Six: Iowa

Iowa, Iowa, Iowa. Always a test for Penn State. This year the game is in Iowa. The first away game for the Nittany Lions since week one at Wisconsin. Before 2020 the last three games were decided by six points or less with Penn State coming out on top each time. However, the Nittany Lions were blown away by the Hawkeyes last season 41-21. One of the issues last season was the lack of run game and offensive presence by the Nittany Lions. With no offensive presence, the defense couldn’t get off of the field. This should be remedied this season with a fully loaded and healthy running back room and a veteran receiving group highlighted by Dotson. If Penn State can get on the board early it should be able to squeak by Iowa and move into the bye week.

2021 Penn State Football Schedule Part One: The Recap

This part of the season will likely make or break the Nittany Lions for 2021. If Penn State can’t get over the initial hump that is Wisconsin and then loses at night, at the White Out to Auburn. Things could start to go downhill fast. Or Penn State wins both and enters Big Ten play undefeated. Or Penn State wins one and loses the other. Entering Big Ten play against Indiana as a one-loss team. There are many ways the first half of the season could go and only time will tell how it will all play out. Be on the lookout for Previewing the 2021 Penn State Football Schedule Part Two coming soon.

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