A brand-new season of college football gets underway in Happy Valley this weekend as the Penn State Nittany Lions welcome the Idaho Vandals for the first meeting between the two schools. James Franklin and Penn State look to start the new season with a win after a somewhat disappointing 2018 season ended with a loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl. The matchup looks to be a lopsided one leaning heavily in favor of the home team in this matchup, with Penn State still packing plenty of talent on the roster despite some key losses to the NFL and some transfers in the offseason.
Penn State will be breaking in a new starting quarterback and a leading running back. The defense should be pretty solid as the Nittany Lions look to play the role of sleeper in the Big Ten this fall. Idaho could be in for a long afternoon this weekend on the road.
Idaho at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Penn State -39.5
When Idaho has the Ball
Idaho returns a good number of starting players on offense this season, but that may not matter too much in this particular matchup. Penn State’s defense is feisty and relentless, and that’s not about to change this season. Against an overmatched offensive line like Idaho’s, Penn State’s defense should be able to make things very difficult for Idaho quarterbacks Mason Petrino and Colton Richardson. Lions defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos leads a unit that was among the best in producing sacks last season. Idaho does have veteran leadership on the offensive line, which is always a luxury in college football, but the Vandals will have their work cut out for them against one of the Big Ten’s better defensive lines.
If the Vandals are going to pull a stunning upset, it will be because redshirt senior Jeff Cotton is able to make some plays. The only problem is that Penn State’s secondary may not make it easy to find much room to catch passes for big plays. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons also is coming off a stellar freshman debut season for the Nittany Lions. After leading the team in tackles in 2018, Parsons may be even better in 2019.
When Penn State Has the Ball
Sean Clifford steps into the starting quarterback job in 2019 following the graduation of Trace McSorley and the transfer of Tommy Stevens (who has been named the starter at Mississippi State). Clifford saw brief playing time last season and showed off some early glimpses to his arm strength, and that should be featured a couple of times in the opener. If Clifford can blend a deep ball with some good touch that makes it easy for his receivers to keep their hands on the ball (Penn State receivers had plenty of issues with dropped passes last season), then the Penn State offense should have its way early and often on the way to giving the starters an early rest.
Penn State also looks to Ricky Slade to step in and be the new featured running back following the loss of Miles Sanders. Slade should keep the running game looking strong, as he was also a highly touted recruit and is capable of piling up some big rushing yardage. Last year’s breakout star, the speedy KJ Hamler, should get involved as well. Don’t be shocked if Hamler races his way for some big plays against Idaho.
Penn State is the overwhelming favorite in the season opener, and for good reason. A strong Big Ten program with years of great recruiting has built a roster that will be nearly impossible for Idaho to enjoy much success against. The Nittany Lions are stronger on both sides of the football against the overmatched FCS Vandals (the game was originally scheduled before Idaho dropped down from FBS To FCS), and there should plenty of snaps to go around for the bulk of the roster. Penn State can sometimes be a tough pick when the point spread is so lopsided, but this one could be just as lopsided as the experts predict, if not more. Penn State will win this one big.
Prediction: Penn State 52, Idaho 13
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.