2021 Penn State Football Schedule Preview Part Two

This is part two of the 2021 Penn State Football schedule preview. The Nittany Lions will be in the heart of Big Ten play.

We are now in August. There are two weeks until the Penn State season opener that we talked about in Part One of this series. The Nittany Lions will travel to Wisconsin to play the Badgers in Week One. In Part One we ended with the game at Iowa. That is two games into Big Ten play and there are several ways that the early Penn State season could go. Nonetheless, the first half of the season will make or break the Penn State football season. So, let’s head into the second half of the 2021 Penn State Football schedule and the heart of Big Ten play.

2021 Penn State Football Schedule Part Two

After Iowa, the Nittany Lions have a bye week before going back home to face Illinois. The bye week will likely come at the perfect time having already faced three Big Ten opponents and Auburn in the first half of the season. The season will end with Michigan State, which is arguably better than ending with Rutgers or Maryland and goes back to how it used to be before the 2017 season.

Game Seven: Illinois

The first game after the bye week is rarely easy for Penn State. More often than not it takes the entire first half to get back into a rhythm and play Penn State football. This year it will be against Illinois. These two have only matched up twice in the last five years. Once in 2018 when the Nittany Lions beat the Fighting Ilini 63-24. Then again last year in the Big Ten bonus game when Penn State ended its not-so-great season strong with a 56-21 win. Still, Penn State can’t take this game lightly. Illinois is sporting a new head coach that is very familiar with the Big Ten. Former Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema¬†was hired in the offseason to replace Lovie Smith. Bielema won three straight Big Ten titles while at Wisconsin.

Not only does Illinois have a new head coach to shake things up, but it also has a veteran quarterback returning in Brandon Peters. Through five games last season, Peters threw for 429 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Those statistics aren’t the easiest to judge, so let’s look at 2019. In his first season at Illinois, Peters had a 55.3 completion percentage, threw for 1,884 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. Overall, not too bad. The fifth-year senior will also have two new, not new to the team, but new receivers to throw to as well. Isaiah Williams is moving from quarterback to wide receiver and so is defensive back, Marquez Beason. Bielema wanted to take advantage of their speed in the new offensive plan. So, it’s safe to say the Penn State secondary will be tested often during this match-up.

Game Eight: Ohio State

A Halloween weekend game that won’t be played in Happy Valley is on tap after the home clash with the Fighting Illini. The Ohio State game is circled on the calendar every year. The 2020 matchup saw the largest win margin for the Buckeyes against Penn State since 2015. From 2016 to 2018 the Penn State-Ohio State game was decided by three points or less. The Nittany Lions coming out on top in one of those matchups. There are a lot of factors to this game for Penn State. Most notably is where the Penn State record is at entering Columbus.

The second factor is the quarterback starting in Columbus. Star Ohio State quarterback Just Fields is playing for the Chicago Bears now and the Buckeyes have yet to name a starter to replace him. There are four options on the roster, but it is looking like the job will go to C.J. Stroud. Leaving top-rated Quinn Ewers on the bench.¬† Another factor for the Ohio State offense is the lack of time to gel for an offensive line that going into the season hasn’t played together in a game yet. A new quarterback and a new offensive line will have seven games to get it together, with only one real test against Oregon, before taking on the Nittany Lions.

Game Nine: Maryland

Maryland beat Penn State for the first time in many many years last season. The 19-35 loss started the Nittany Lions 0-3 and helped set the tone for Penn State to lose five straight. That won’t happen this year. If Penn State can stay healthy, there are no signs pointing at a repeat performance against the Terps. The Nittany Lions have even more depth at all offensive positions this year and a secondary that looks to be much improved. Look for Penn State to get back on track and start a new win streak over Maryland.

Game Ten: Michigan

Michigan. Will this be Jim Harbaugh’s year? Well, unlikely, but you never know. The Wolverines ended the 2020 season 2-4. Before that, a three-loss season, a four-loss season, a five-loss season, and another three-loss season. In those five years, Penn State is 3-2 against the Wolverines. The Nittany Lions finished the 2020 season strong with a 10-point win against Michigan. Penn State is home against Michigan. If the Nittany Lions can play complete football at all levels, they should beat Harbaugh yet again.

Game Eleven: Rutgers

Rutgers is the final home game of the season for Penn State. While Rutgers has slowly been improving over the last few seasons the team from New Jersey is still consistently at the bottom of the Big Ten standings. The Scarlet Knights got through all nine games in 2020 and boasted a 3-6 record. 2019? Rutgers won two games against Massachusetts and Liberty. The Scarlet Knights have won 12 games in the last five years. Its best season in that span came in 2017 with four wins. It hasn’t been a good time for Rutgers and barring anything crazy happening, the 2021 season doesn’t look much better.

Game Twelve: Michigan State

Here we are. The final game of the regular season and it will be played in Michigan. Michigan State will have a rebuilding year in 2021 and by the end of the season, Penn State should have the quarterback situation figured out. Sean Clifford will either step up, or a younger signal-caller will be in the backfield. Regardless, the Nittany Lions should finish the season strong, bolstered by a win against Rutgers. There is too much talent on the Penn State offense for the Spartans to overcome. Look for another strong end to the season for the Nittany Lions.

2021 Penn State Football Schedule Preview Recap

The fate of the season is arguably in the first half of the 2021 Penn State Football schedule, but the second half is equally important. As the Nittany Lions showed in 2016, a strong finish can catapult a season. However, this season will not be like that. If Penn State enters the second part of the season with three losses, it will likely fall to at least four losses and that cannot be overcome. So, the first half is more important here and the Nittany Lions usually struggle in the first half. Of games and of seasons.

 

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