The Penn State Nittany Lions have managed to stay competitive the last few years under former head coach Bill O’Brien despite the crushing NCAA sanctions that stemmed from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. They went 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 in 2013 despite knowing that they would not be eligible for postseason play.

A couple of highlights from last year include wins over Michigan in quadruple overtime as well as an outright victory at Wisconsin as a 24-point underdog, which was their largest dog role in school history. O’Brien got the most out of this team, and the same can be said for new head coach James Franklin with the job he did at Vanderbilt.

The Commodores had just one nine-win season in 122 years prior to Franklin’s arrival. All he did was take them to back-to-back nine-win seasons over the last two years in what is considered the toughest conference in the country. Franklin should be the perfect fit here at Penn State with his ability to overachieve despite the sanctions, which are reduced this year.

Franklin will have his hands full with only 12 returning starters this year. The good news is that quarterback Christian Hackenburg returns after throwing for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns against 10 interceptions as a freshman last year. The defense has seven starters back and should be improved after yielding 26.2 points and 381 yards per game a year ago.

The Nittany Lions have slipped a bit in recruiting due to the sanctions. They rank 34th over the last three years in recruiting, but Franklin was able to put together the 23rd-best recruiting class in 2014. He even managed to sway some commits at Vanderbilt to Penn State, which is a testament to how much players really want to play for him.

Last Season
Big Ten (Leaders)
ATS Record
Points For
Points Against
2014 Schedule
2014 Penn State Nittany Lions Schedule
Date Opponent
Spread (Est.)
Win Chance
8/30 UCF (Dublin, Ireland)
9/6 Akron
9/13 @ Rutgers
9/20 UMass
9/27 Northwestern
10/11 @ Michigan
10/25 Ohio State
11/1 Maryland
11/8 @ Indiana
11/15 Temple
11/22 @ Illinois
11/29 Michigan State
Estimated Wins: 6.16

With the help of the Golden Nugget’s lines for 200 different college football games, I have set spreads for all 12 of Penn State’s games in 2014. I have them as a favorite in all four non-conference games, which are pretty easy with the exception of the opener against UCF in Dublin, Ireland.

The Nittany Lions have a decent Big Ten schedule as well. They draw Northwestern and Illinois from the West division, and the key there is that they get the Wildcats at home. Indeed, this team could make a serious run at a Big Ten East title with the way the schedule sets up.

Penn State gets four of its toughest conference games at home against Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Maryland. It does have a road game at Michigan, but the other three contests away from home are all winnable at Rutgers, Indiana and Illinois. Another key here is that the Nittany Lions get byes before both Michigan and Ohio State.

The odds to the right show that many of the Penn State games are essentially toss-ups. There are nine single-digit spreads, which are games that really could go either way. The only three that aren’t are the easy non-conference home games against Arkon, UMass and Temple.

Odds (Courtesy of Bovada)
Regular Season Win Total
Big Ten Championship Odds
National Championship Odds
Not Eligible
Not Eligible
Season Predictions

I have been a big Franklin backer the past couple of seasons at Vanderbilt. Bill O’Brien did one hell of a job here, and Franklin should be able to follow in his footsteps, especially with his ability to recruit. The sanctions are lightened this year, and they will continue to be in the next few seasons.

There is enough talent here to be competitive in 2014. The offense is in good hands with QB Hackenberg and RB Zach Zwinak, but only five starters return, and they lose three of their top four receivers. The defense should be better with seven starters returning from a unit that took a step back last year, allowing 26.2 points per game.

The schedule could be good or bad, depending how you look at it. Most of the Nittany Lions’ toughest conference games are at home, and their easiest games are on the road. I actually think this will work against them as they’ll lose to both Ohio State and Michigan State at home, and I also have them likely losing three of their four road games. That puts them at 3-5 within the conference and in a tie for fifth in the East division in Franklin’s first season.

2014 Projections
Big Ten East
Big Ten Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
Under 7.5
More College Football Predictions
Big Ten
Penn State
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