Penn State Preview: Wisconsin

Penn State opens the season at Wisconsin on Saturday, with the two teams meeting in a season opener for just the second time (1953). Photo credit: John Patishnock

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions this football season.

Game details: No. 19/20 Penn State at No. 12/15 Wisconsin, noon kickoff (ET), broadcast on FOX.

Venue: Camp Randall Stadium, where Penn State won 31-24 in 2013, in the teams’ last meeting in Madison.

Weather forecast (via Accuweather): High of 70, and mostly cloudy with a shower in spots.

The line: Penn State +4.5

All-time series: Penn State leads 10-9.

Last meeting (2018): Penn State won 22-10, extending the Nittany Lions’ winning streak in the series to four.

Throwback classic (2012): Penn State upended Wisconsin in the season finale to cap off an emotional (to say the least) 8-4 season in Bill O’Brien’s opening campaign in Happy Valley.

The lead: By rankings, this will be Penn State’s toughest opener since 2001, when the Nittany Lions hosted Miami (Fla.) in a game well-known for featuring Adam Taliaferro walking, and then jogging, onto the field at Beaver Stadium after suffering a paralyzing hit at Ohio State the year before.

Last season was strange, awkward, and unusual for all the reasons that everyone already knows. Logic says that last year’s 4-5 season was a fluke. Winning 42 games in four seasons doesn’t happen by accident, so it’s completely reasonable to think that another double-digit win total is within reach. If the new coaches, especially offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, can adequately mold, push, and motivate the incredible level of talent on this team, there’s a real chance that Penn State can push Ohio State for the Big Ten title this season. A win Saturday can go a long way to making that happen.

Penn State wins if: Sean Clifford and the offense play close to mistake-free football. The margin of error for the Nittany Lions isn’t that small Saturday — Penn State doesn’t have to play perfect to win — though having one or zero turnovers probably flips the Nittany Lions from a small underdog to a small favorite, everything else being equal.

Wisconsin wins if: the Badgers can effectively run the ball in the second half. Wisconsin’s going to get its fair share of yards on the ground, though the Badgers are especially good at wearing down teams as the game goes on. If Penn State doesn’t tire, the Nittany Lions should be fine.  

Count on: Seeing plenty of blue and white if you’re traveling to the game. Our Friday night mixer that we’re co-hosting with the Madison Chapter and our game day pep rally both reached capacity a week or two ahead of the game. 

Keep an eye on: How new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich works the tight ends into the attack. Last week, Franklin said that this year’s core is the best group of tight ends he’s ever been around. 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State ranks eighth all-time by being ranked in the AP preseason poll a total of 48 times. Wisconsin, meanwhile, trails quite a bit. The Badgers stand 22nd with 30 appearances.

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