We joined the excellent SB Nation Penn State blog, Black Shoe Diaries, for a Q&A this week, and in return, BSD's Devon Edwards answered some of our questions. Here's what you should know about Penn State this weekend.
1. Hackenberg has been a top 30 QB, but the offense still ranks pretty poorly nationally (of course, not to a Northwestern level). What's the reason for that?
Hack's been great, but the offense starts with the line, and ours has been abysmal. After starting center Miles Dieffenbach got hurt in the offseason, Penn State was left with one returning starter, and a whole lot of inexperience. Two of the top 6 OL were playing defensive tackle this time last year, and the depth is nonexistent. Hackenberg's done an amazing job, considering how often he's been running for his life, but the run game hasn't been able to even get started--last week against UMass excepting, and they're UMass.
2. What are the expectations for this season now that a bowl game is a possibility? Do fans think a Big Ten East title is a possibility?
Nobody's expecting Penn State to win the division title, but looking around and seeing the current state of much of the Big Ten, it's not hard to see an outside track to 9 or 10 wins, if the OL can start to gel. Michigan State is a sure loss, and Ohio State isn't much likelier, but if Penn State truly belongs in that second tier, it should be able to beat the likes of Indiana, Maryland, and a very down Michigan. I think the youth on this team still trips it up too often--9 wins would be the goal, with 8 just as likely. All said, though, a mid-tier bowl game would be better for this program than sneaking into the Capital One Bowl and getting beat up by the #3 team in the SEC.
3. Random question: Who is Penn State's biggest Big Ten rival and who will it be in the future? Rutgers? Maryland? Ohio State? Michigan? Nebraska? I can't really figure it out.
It should have been Nebraska, but then Rutgers and Maryland had to come in and screw everything up with their stupid division realignment. Our biggest rival--until the sanctions--had been Ohio State; with Michigan down, that game essentially decided the Big Ten champion for much of the late-2000s. Rutgers will have to win a couple before we recognize them as rivals--it's been a wholly one-sided series for decades. Pitt comes back on the schedule in the next few years, and there's some scuttlebutt about trying to renew the rivalry more permanently. That would be fun.
4. James Franklin was scared to play Northwestern last year. How pissed do you think he is that the Big Ten mandated he play this game?
I'm sure he's shaking in his boots, Kevin.
5. The Penn State defense has been impressive this year. What should Northwestern's offense worry about the most?
There's no question who's been the best player on Penn State's D this year: DT Anthony Zettel. Zettel's an undersized tackle, having moved from defensive end before the season, but he's been one of the best players in the country in the earlygoing, just beating linemen off the snap en route to sacks, pressures, and TFLs. DE Deion Barnes is a pure edge rusher, and is having a rennaisance season after a sophmore slump, and LB Mike Hull won't stand out too much, but by the end of the game he'll have 12 tackles. The DB is led by SS Adrian Amos and CB Jordan Lucas, who both might be all-Big Ten at the end of the year.
6. Your prediction for the game.
I'm a real believer in this Penn State defense, and the fact that Northwestern finally doesn't have a dual-threat QB (seriously, I'm convinced that Mike Kafka, Dan Persa, and Kain Colter are actually the same person) is a relief. It's been Penn State's wont this season to start slowly, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is a close game at halftime, with Penn State pulling away later. Let's say PSU 27-13.