The wait is finally over.
The 2020 Big Ten football season is here, seven weeks behind schedule, as the first IU Athletics competition in seven and a half months starts on Saturday afternoon in Bloomington.
Indiana has won 14 of its last 16 season openers, but the first opponent doesn’t typically look like this.
Due to the modified Big Ten only schedule, the No. 8 Penn State Nittany Lions present a formidable foe to start the 2020 campaign.
No. 8 PENN STATE (0-0, 0-0) at INDIANA (0-0, 0-0)
- Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Memorial Stadium (52,656 / no fans), Bloomington, Indiana
- Television: FS1
- Series: Penn State leads the series 22-1 (last meeting PSU 34-27 – 2019)
- Odds: Penn State is a 6.5 point favorite
- Weather at kickoff: 54 degrees, wind 8 mph, 0% chance of precipitation.
(Penn State finished 11-2, 7-2 in 2019 while Indiana completed an 8-5, 5-4 campaign)
Tom Allen is 18-20 and now in his fourth full season as the head coach at Indiana. Allen’s 18 wins are the most for an Indiana coach over his first three seasons.
James Franklin is 56-23 (.709) in his seventh season at Penn State. Franklin served as Vanderbilt head coach (2011-13) and carries an overall record of 80-38 (.678).
- Tom Allen’s final thoughts on Penn State
- James Franklin’s thoughts on Indiana
- Allen and Don Fischer discuss the upcoming season
- Penn State is personal for Whop Philyor
- Viewing guide: New numbers, positions and players on the rise
TALE OF THE TAPE
(stats are from 2019)
BTN GAME PREVIEW
WHEN PENN STATE HAS THE FOOTBALL
Overall both Penn State and Indiana return most of their offensive/defensive starters respectively from 2019.
If the Hoosiers want to slow down the Nittany Lions, they will first have to stop the run.
Indiana likes its front six this year, but it will meet a stiff test from the jump.
Penn State’s offensive line is the strength of the team when they have the ball. It is a unit that is largely back from 2019, and it wore down Indiana with 192 rushing yards and a game clinching 17 play, 75 yard fourth quarter drive.
The Nittany Lions will be without top rusher Journey Brown on Saturday. He amassed 890 yards and 12 scores with a gaudy 6.9 yards per carry average. But of course Penn State has depth, and sophomores Noah Cain and Devyn Ford combined for 737 yards and another 11 scores in 2019.
The real interesting thing to watch will be how quickly PSU can adapt to new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca’s RPO scheme.
Quarterback Sean Clifford struggled through the air against IU last year (11-of-23, 179 yards), but he made the Hoosiers pay on the ground with 10 carries for 55 yards and two scores.
The Nittany Lions lost their top playmaking wideout in K.J. Hamler. Jahan Dotson (27 catches, 488 yards, 5 TDs) is back, but the Nittany Lions will look to a promising young group of receivers to emerge.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth is the most dangerous weapon on the offense. The 6-foot-5, 260 pound junior caught 43 passes for 507 yards and 7 scores in 2019. Indiana will be without husky Marcelino Ball who likely would have covered Freiermuth in space.
WHEN INDIANA HAS THE FOOTBALL
If the Hoosiers are going to pull off the upset its offense is likely to lead the way. Penn State returns just four defensive starters from 2019.
But while IU returns most of its offensive production from a year ago, it has question marks on the interior of its offensive line.
Can the Hoosiers get enough push to establish a respectable running game with junior star Stevie Scott? Can they keep the pocket clean for quarterback Michael Penix?
Another wildcard for IU — Saturday will mark the first game that new offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan calls the plays.
PSU has talented defensive ends in Shaka Toney and Jayson Oweh, and the Nittany Lions return depth at defensive tackle, safety and corner.
The Nittany Lions had a top-five run defense in 2019, and it won’t be surprising to see IU struggle some on the ground.
In the end, it might come down to Penix’s arm.
Penn State is likely to shadow Indiana star receiver Whop Philyor. If other playmakers such as Ty Fryfogle, Miles Marshall, David Ellis and tight end Peyton Hendershot can win one-on-ones, IU is likely to go toe-to-toe with the Nittany Lions all afternoon.
This game has gone down to the wire in each of the last two meetings — and Indiana has a better team this year.
Special teams has played a big role in this series in each of the last two games. Indiana must avoid mistakes there to hang in this one.
We could see this game going either way.
Predicting the outcome with no nonconference schedule, two new offensive coordinators, and no fans in the stands is a fool’s errand.
And we’re up for it.
Maybe 2020 is just crazy enough that this is the year IU starts knocking off the big boys.
PENN STATE 31
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