Penn State hopes for football recovery are already on the rise in 2021.
The first, much too early, national polls list the Nittany Lions anywhere from No. 10 to just inside the Top 25.
They just hired one of the country’s hottest coaching names to direct their offense.
And they recently got word that three of their top performers from last year are returning, putting the NFL off for now.
The thing is, this team’s anticipated recovery from its first losing season in 16 years has to include one of the Big Ten’s toughest schedules, including what may be Penn State’s toughest openings in years, if not ever.
For the first time in two decades, the Lions start the season against a ranked team. And for the first time since 1985, they will do so in a truly hostile stadium when they visit the Wisconsin Badgers on Sept. 4.
Their home opener will be against reigning Mid-American Conference champion Ball State, who gets most of his firepower back from his first bowl-winning team.
Then comes the multi-year Top 25 Auburn Tigers.
After a non-conference game against Villanova and a farewell week, they travel to Top 25 Iowa.
Later, of course, Penn State will play up-and-coming Indiana, Michigan and the national title contender Ohio State.
The difficulty of opening the Lions five weeks is close to those schedules in 2002 (UCF, Nebraska, La Tech, Iowa, Wisconsin) and 2001 (Miami, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Northwest).
Perhaps it goes all the way back to 1960, when Rip Engle’s Lions played nationally ranked Missouri, Army and Syracuse in consecutive early weeks.
Difficult start also in 2020
There’s this caveat, though: The Lions ended up having arguably the roughest two weeks in the nation in the past season, traveling to soaring Indiana, and then meeting up with the state of Ohio.
Despite 2020’s dysfunction and several losses along their offensive and defensive lines, the Lions will welcome three of their top performers and leaders receiver Jahan Dotson, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields and security Jaquan Brisker.
They also expect an offensive boost from the appointment of Coordinator Mike Yurcich, who had led many scoring attacks from Shippensburg to the state of Oklahoma and Texas. He is also known as a quarterback teacher and recruiter, and helped shape Ohio State’s Justin Fields in 2019.
The Lions also hope to reclaim what was one of the deepest running chambers in the country before injuries ravaged in 2020. They will feature sophomores Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes, along with juniors Noah Cain and Devyn Ford and incoming senior transfer John Lovett.
Here’s Penn State’s schedule for 2021:
September 4 in Wisconsin
Sept 11th BALL STATE
Sept 18 AUBURN
Sept 25th VILLANOVA
October 2 See you soon
October 9 in Iowa
October 16 ILLINOIS
October 23 in the state of Michigan
October 30 INDIANA
November 6 in Maryland
November 13 MICHIGAN
November 20 in the state of Ohio
November 27 RUTGERS
FrankBodanic covers Penn State football for the York Daily Record and USA Today Network. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @YDRPennState.
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