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Previewing the Schedule: Northwestern to Michigan State

Submitted by on August 27, 20097 Comments

Time now to finish our quick glance at the 2009 Penn State football schedule. So far I have Penn State at 8-0. How do you have them after eight games?

Akron-Iowa | Illinois-Michigan

Pat Fitzgerald
Pat Fitzgerald
@ NORTHWESTERN
October 31, 2009 – 4:30pm, ESPN/ESPN2

I have gone on record by saying that this is the trap game of all trap games for Penn State. Snuggled comfortably between a road game at Michigan and a home game against Ohio State, Penn State must travel to innocent looking Evanston, Illinois to take on Northwestern.

The Wildcats have a lot of holes to fill after being decimated of their top players by graduation. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald will have his biggest challenge this season as he must find a way to maintain progress after losing his starting quarterback, top four wide receivers and top two running backs.

The Northwestern defense will have to play at the same level they did in their wins in 2008. In their wins last year Northwestern’s defense gave up an average of 14.3 points per game.

Expect Penn State to score at least 15 points in this game, probably in their first three possessions. But I am on record as calling this game an upset loss for Penn State, and I’ll stick by hat prediction as of today.

Terrelle Pryor
Terrelle Pryor
OHIO STATE
November 7, 2009 – TBA

Can this game be hyped any more than it already is?

Penn State and Ohio State are the consensus top two teams in the Big Ten, with Ohio State receiving the edge on a national level in almost every media outlet. All eyes are on sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor as the lofty expectations continue to mount on his shoulder pads. Pryor showed signs that he was, in fact, a true freshman last year with some costly mistakes trying to make big plays out of nothing (see Adam Rubin) but in all honesty, he did show some very encouraging signs for his future.

Pryor will have to carry the offense in 2009 as the Buckeyes lose their top running back in Chris “Beanie” Wells. Pryor is actually the leading returning rusher for Ohio State but it remains to be seen how running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron will fill the backfield.

As always, the Buckeyes will bring a tough defense. Although the Buckeyes lose a few of their top performers form the past few seasons both at linebacker and in the secondary, the defensive line is still a strength. Penn State has had a rough time figuring out the Ohio State defense the past few years. This may be the weakest defense they have faced from Ohio State in a long time, but that does not mean the Nittany Lions are going to score 40 points.

I’m calling for a close Penn State victory right now.

Ben Chappell (4)
Ben Chappell (4)
INDIANA
November 14, 2009 – TBA

Penn State has not lost to Indiana since joining the Big Ten in 1993. No reasons to expect anything different this time around.

Indiana will field a number of players with question marks on their jerseys on both sides of the ball, but especially on offense. Quarterback Ben Chappell will have a running back who recorded a little over 300 yards on the ground in 2008 and a leading receiver who did not score a touchdown last season.

On defense Indiana could have a pair of talented pass rushers in Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew, but other than that the Hoosiers have a lot of problem areas. the Hoosiers gave up at least 42 points six times last season and lost by an average of about 26 points.

But hey, at least they’ll get $3 million next season by playing their “home” game against Penn State in the Washington D.C. area, right?

Kirk Cousins
Kirk Cousins
@ MICHIGAN STATE
November 21, 2009 – TBA

A Big Ten title was on the line in 2008 and it could possibly be on the line again in 2009.

The Spartans lose their starting quarterback and one of the league’s top running backs but there is still a sense of optimism surrounding the Michigan State program. They face an unusual high expectation after being predicted to finish third behind Penn State and Ohio State. When put in such high regard in the Big Ten in the pre season though the Spartans have a history of falling short.

The offense does return seven starters but the starting quarterback situation could be up for grabs until the end of September. Kirk cousins and Keith Nichol are still waiting to learn who will start their season opener, and that will not be announced until next week.

The defense returns eight starters on a defense that was good but not great in the Big Ten last season. In their three losses though the defense failed to limit the big plays against Ohio State, Penn State and Georgia.

I’m calling for a win for the Nittany Lions, but only because I think they may have much more to play for.

So there you go. I have Penn State at 11-1. How about you?

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  • psudevon

    If Penn State beats Illinois, OSU, UM, and MSU, but loses to Northwestern, I'll eat my hat.

  • Chaddogg

    @psudevon — I hope you like the taste of your hat. Remember: Northwestern is the last non-Michigan/non-OSU team to beat Penn State at Beaver Stadium. PSU losing to Northwestern is not unprecedented.

    Plus, NU has a shot at being 7-1 or 8-0 going into that game, which is potentially NU's only late-start game all season, and is on Halloween to boot. You better believe Evanston will be rocking for that game.

    (Note: As a Northwestern fan, I still think an NU win over PSU is a longshot….but Northwestern is just as much of a challenge this year for PSU as UM, MSU, or Illinois, in my opinion.)

  • psusportsinn

    Okay first off the only reason NU might have a shot to be 7-1 or 8-0 is because your toughest game is Mich St (a game you will most likely lose).

    Secondly Fitzgerald gets way too much praise. In the last four years NU's record is 19-18. Your 0-3 vs top ten teams, 1-6 vs top 25 teams AT HOME and your telling me your team puts as much fear in Penn State as an Ohio St, Illinois or Michigan team.

    But let's put that aside you lost your starting quarterback who accounted for 17td's, the back up had two td's and three picks. You lost your only running back who has very good. The back up to him is now your starting qb. You lost all four of your top receivers. Your O-line does look solid I'll give you that. You lose two starters on your D-line, two of your three starting lb's. Penn State loses a lot too however we have the ability to reload not try and rebuild.

    Don't get me wrong I would love to see Northwestern get good again like in 95 but they are still three maybe four years out. Good luck but inless your players are wearing USC costumes you will get smoked!

  • Chaddogg

    I'll give you that we have to replace a lot of skill positions on offense, but Kafka is hardly a slouch, and with a strong returning O-line and the spread generally, it's not as hard to replace WRs/RBs. The defense is going to be tough, as all the starters got significant reps last year.

    And I'll grant you that beating PSU is going to be tough for Northwestern — clearly our toughest game all season, and one we'll probably be underdogs for to the tune of 14 points or so.

    But 2 things bother me about your post:

    1) Anyone who says Fitzgerald gets way too much praise needs his head examined. Fitz took over when our coach DIED around 6 weeks before the start of the season. Under those circumstances, to turn the team from 4-8, to 6-6, to last year's 9-4 is damn impressive. Recruiting is the best it's ever been, depth is better than its ever been, the defense is drawing comparisons to 1995-96's unit, the team had its best academic performance ever last year, fans/alumni are devoted to him….I'd say Fitz is doing an OUTSTANDING job, and deserves all the praise he gets.

    2) I never said PSU should fear us as much as OSU. And with the exception of last year, PSU should probably fear Michigan more than Northwestern. But Illinois? Really? You attack Fitz for being 19-18 over his three years (and I'd give him a mulligan for his first year due to the tragedy of losing Walker), but Illinois is 16-21 over those same three years.

    Honestly, nothing annoys me more than fans who on one hand write off Northwestern as one-year wonders (despite having as many Big Ten titles as Penn State since PSU joined the conference), but then claim Illinois is a good team. In every respect, Northwestern has been VASTLY better than Illinois (and Minnesota, and Indiana) over the past 15 years. Even this year, while Illinois' offense is supposed to be good, they were supposed to be just as good last year when they went 5-7, and their defense is arguably worse than last year. Explain to me how a team with no heart, no defense, a QB who makes too many mistakes, and a poor gameday coach gets all this respect conference wide?

  • psudevon

    I'll stick my head in here.

    Northwestern is undoubtedly a program on the rise. In the past, it seems that the norm has been prolonged periods of mediocrity with the occasional superlative season. However, if Fitzgerald can keep it up, I'm not going to say Northwestern can be considered a first-tier team in the conference (that's typically reserved for OSU, UM, and now, maybe PSU), but you guy can be right along there with Wisconsin, and Michigan State, and Iowa going 8-4, 9-3, every year. And that's not meant to be a knock at all, most programs would kill for that kind of prolonged success.

    Illinois's respect comes from the fact that they're truly explosive on offense. With a team like a Northwestern, you don't have to worry about them putting up 60 points on you, but when Juice Williams is on, Illinois can do just that. And I wouldn't say Illinois has enjoyed much success, but since Ron Zook took over, they're a program in the right direction. They're the exact opposite of Fitzgerald and NW, though. Talented and undisciplined, whereas Fitzgerald is getting the most out of his players. But Illinois is a much tougher match-up for us. Penn State's greatest weakness is in its secondary, and Illinois is one of the only teams with a vertical passing game. I'm honestly not sure how good Northwestern would be, but I know how good Tyrell Sutton was, and I liked Eric Peterman a lot too. Kafka's got a lot of heart, and he's a good QB, but I don't know how much he can do on his own.

    Ryan Field has not been kind to Penn State in the past, and coming sandwiched in between 2 high-profile games, this one won't be a gimme. But I'm more confident in Penn State's ability to overcome Northwestern than Illinois, only because Northwestern is the kind of team we typically have success against.

    Also, I love Corey Woottoon. He is scary good. My favorite defensive player in the conference. Just sayin'.

  • Chaddogg

    I'll give you that we have to replace a lot of skill positions on offense, but Kafka is hardly a slouch, and with a strong returning O-line and the spread generally, it's not as hard to replace WRs/RBs. The defense is going to be tough, as all the starters got significant reps last year.

    And I'll grant you that beating PSU is going to be tough for Northwestern — clearly our toughest game all season, and one we'll probably be underdogs for to the tune of 14 points or so.

    But 2 things bother me about your post:

    1) Anyone who says Fitzgerald gets way too much praise needs his head examined. Fitz took over when our coach DIED around 6 weeks before the start of the season. Under those circumstances, to turn the team from 4-8, to 6-6, to last year's 9-4 is damn impressive. Recruiting is the best it's ever been, depth is better than its ever been, the defense is drawing comparisons to 1995-96's unit, the team had its best academic performance ever last year, fans/alumni are devoted to him….I'd say Fitz is doing an OUTSTANDING job, and deserves all the praise he gets.

    2) I never said PSU should fear us as much as OSU. And with the exception of last year, PSU should probably fear Michigan more than Northwestern. But Illinois? Really? You attack Fitz for being 19-18 over his three years (and I'd give him a mulligan for his first year due to the tragedy of losing Walker), but Illinois is 16-21 over those same three years.

    Honestly, nothing annoys me more than fans who on one hand write off Northwestern as one-year wonders (despite having as many Big Ten titles as Penn State since PSU joined the conference), but then claim Illinois is a good team. In every respect, Northwestern has been VASTLY better than Illinois (and Minnesota, and Indiana) over the past 15 years. Even this year, while Illinois' offense is supposed to be good, they were supposed to be just as good last year when they went 5-7, and their defense is arguably worse than last year. Explain to me how a team with no heart, no defense, a QB who makes too many mistakes, and a poor gameday coach gets all this respect conference wide?

  • psudevon

    I'll stick my head in here.

    Northwestern is undoubtedly a program on the rise. In the past, it seems that the norm has been prolonged periods of mediocrity with the occasional superlative season. However, if Fitzgerald can keep it up, I'm not going to say Northwestern can be considered a first-tier team in the conference (that's typically reserved for OSU, UM, and now, maybe PSU), but you guy can be right along there with Wisconsin, and Michigan State, and Iowa going 8-4, 9-3, every year. And that's not meant to be a knock at all, most programs would kill for that kind of prolonged success.

    Illinois's respect comes from the fact that they're truly explosive on offense. With a team like a Northwestern, you don't have to worry about them putting up 60 points on you, but when Juice Williams is on, Illinois can do just that. And I wouldn't say Illinois has enjoyed much success, but since Ron Zook took over, they're a program in the right direction. They're the exact opposite of Fitzgerald and NW, though. Talented and undisciplined, whereas Fitzgerald is getting the most out of his players. But Illinois is a much tougher match-up for us. Penn State's greatest weakness is in its secondary, and Illinois is one of the only teams with a vertical passing game. I'm honestly not sure how good Northwestern would be, but I know how good Tyrell Sutton was, and I liked Eric Peterman a lot too. Kafka's got a lot of heart, and he's a good QB, but I don't know how much he can do on his own.

    Ryan Field has not been kind to Penn State in the past, and coming sandwiched in between 2 high-profile games, this one won't be a gimme. But I'm more confident in Penn State's ability to overcome Northwestern than Illinois, only because Northwestern is the kind of team we typically have success against.

    Also, I love Corey Woottoon. He is scary good. My favorite defensive player in the conference. Just sayin'.