Penn State started their 2020 season off on all the wrong feet, but James Franklin's Nittany Lions got into a bit of a groove to close the campaign out with a four-game winning streak. Things may not get too much easier in 2021 with a formidable schedule that includes the two toughest cross-division road games a team in the Big Ten East can possibly draw, a road game against Ohio State, and a big non-conference showdown with the Auburn Tigers.
Penn State also is looking to capitalize on a bit of a revenge tour with games against four teams they lost to in 2020 (Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland).
Here's a look at the schedule facing Penn State in 2021 as the Nittany Lions look to show they had nothing more than a bizarre off-year in 2020. If they wind up on the national radar in 2021, they will certainly earn it.
Bye: Week 7
Week 1 – Sept. 4 at Wisconsin (Madison, Wis.)
Penn State faces one of the tougher opening games they have played in years with a Big Ten road contest against one of the top teams in the West Division. It should be a great way to set the tone and see where Penn State (and Wisconsin) are in the Big Ten title picture right out of the gates.
Week 2 – Sept. 11 vs. Ball State (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State's home opener comes against a Ball State program that should lead to a win, but the Cardinals are coming off a 7-1 season and won't be easy to shove aside.
Week 3 – Sept. 18 vs. Auburn (University Park, Pa.)
One of the more intriguing non-conference matchups in the Big Ten takes place in Week 3 when Penn State hosts Auburn from the SEC. A win over Auburn would help spike the momentum for Penn State.
Week 4 – Sept. 25 vs. Villanova (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State rarely plays FCS teams from within the state of Pennsylvania, but that changes in Week 4 with a visit from the Villanova Wildcats. It will be the first meeting between the two schools since 1951, and Villanova actually owns a three-game winning streak in the series. That streak will likely come to an end this year.
Week 5 – Oct. 2 vs. Indiana (University Park, Pa.)
The first of a handful of revenge games for the Nittany Lions comes in Week 5. Penn State opened the 2020 season with a gut-wrenching loss to Indiana, and the Hoosiers figure to be a tough opponent once again.
Week 6 – Oct. 9 at Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa)
Before going into a bye week, Penn State looks for revenge for a second straight week. Iowa dominated Penn State in Beaver Stadium in 2020, but the Nittany Lions have overcome challenges in Iowa City in recent trips. Like the road game at Wisconsin, this is a tough road test for the Nittany Lions in cross-division play.
Week 8 – Oct. 23 vs. Illinois (University Park, Pa.)
After a bye week, Penn State returns home to face Bret Bielema and his Illinois program. The Illini had some offensive fireworks in last season's finale at Penn State, but the Nittany Lions pulled away to hand Illinois a loss. Penn State should be a solid favorite once again.
Week 9 – Oct. 30 at Ohio State (Columbus, Ohio)
The biggest challenge of the season comes at the end of October. A road trip to Ohio Stadium rarely sends Penn State home with a win, and the Buckeyes will once again be the Big Ten favorite this season. But a win here could change the entire outlook of the East Division.
Week 10 – Nov. 6 at Maryland (College Park, Md.)
Maryland embarrassed Penn State in Beaver Stadium last season, so Penn State looks to return the favor this year in College Park. Penn State has had plenty of success in their Big Ten trips to Maryland, but these Terrapins could still be improving.
Week 11 – Nov. 13 vs. Michigan (University Park, Pa.)
Who knows exactly what to make of this game. First place in the Big Ten East could be on the line or a battle for third/fourth place could be in the works. Penn State has won the last two meetings in the series, and three of the last four.
Week 12 – Nov. 20 vs. Rutgers (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State hasn't exactly blown out Rutgers in recent seasons, but the Nittany Lions are still well ahead of where Rutgers is. Greg Schiano may be injecting some new life in the Scarlet Knights, but they should be heading back to New Jersey with a loss.
Week 13 – Nov. 27 at Michigan State (East Lansing, Mich.)
Penn State closes out the regular season on the road against Michigan State. The Spartans are in a rebuilding phase and may be a program just ready to pack it in or the year. Still, Penn State is not in any position to take any game for granted in 2021, and road games in East Lansing can get dicey.