What you need to know: Akron at Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and when and where you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.
Game details: vs. Akron, noon kickoff, broadcast on ABC
Records: Penn State (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten), Akron (0-0, 0-0 MAC)
Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 278-72. The Nittany Lions finished last season 7-0 and have won 13 of their last 14 at home.
Weather forecast (via AccuWeather.com): High of 63 degrees and a 80 percent chance of precipitation. Winds south-southeast at 5-10 miles per hour, and if you’re looking to start your tailgate early, sunrise is set for 6:39 a.m.
Overview: This game feels like it should be a blowout, and it probably will be, but season openers can always be tricky. And it took Penn State’s offense a few games last year before really figuring things out with Joe Moorhead’s uptempo approach. Quarterback Trace McSorley is one of many players saying the offense is way ahead of where it was a year ago — when the Lions averaged 38 points per game — so even if everything doesn’t go Penn State’s way, Saturday should still serve as a celebratory day for fans. Penn State football is back. That’s your headline.
The line: Penn State –30
Over/Under: 66 points
All-time series: Penn State leads 5-0, first meeting in 1999.
Last time they met (2014): Penn State won 21-3, and Christian Hackenberg finished 22-of-36 for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions come even remotely close to resembling the team that stormed back to win nine consecutive games and claim the Big Ten title last year.
Akron wins if: the Zips play their best game in program history, and then a whole bunch of other stuff happens. Akron finished 5-7 last season, and the closest margin between them and the Lions has been 18 points (on two occasions). Other than Georgia State, this is the one game on the schedule that’ll allow fans the opportunity to tailgate with victory a foregone conclusion. And with that statement, I’m giving Rutgers way more credit than the Scarlet Knights ever deserve.
Count on: Penn State’s defensive line getting at least five sacks. Maybe this isn’t a noteworthy stat against an overmatched opponent, but with Garrett Sickels and Evan Schwan now playing in the NFL, getting off to an impressive start should help Sean Spencer’s group continue the “Chaos” approach that he likes to employ.
Keep an eye on: the hometown crowd. Chances are Saturday will mark the first home opener with 100,000-plus fans since 2010. If the fans routinely break six figures this year, it’ll be even more interesting to follow future conversations of Beaver Stadium renovations, and just how many seats will be removed for other gameday enhancements.
Trivia tidbit: Since starting Big Ten play in 1993, Penn State has had only three years with a losing conference mark (2003, 2004, 2014). Michigan has had five such losing records in the last decade. Two incredible stats when you consider national perceptions, especially in the wake of last year’s 49-10 defeat at Michigan Stadium, where Penn State played without its starting linebacker core. So if you run into any Wolverine fans this season who will inevitably say “49-10,” you have your comeback. That, or James Franklin winning a Big Ten title before Jim Harbaugh. We’re just trying to give you options.
Saquon Barkley record watch: Penn State’s superstar running back can break the program’s all-time rushing record this year — among other marks — and we’ll track his weekly progress. Barkley currently stands 12th all-time with 2,572 yards, and Evan Royster holds the top mark with 3,932 yards.
*Season record: 0-0
*Season record against the spread: 0-0
Prediction: Penn State 55, Akron 13
*HappyValley season predictions