After two years floating around .500, Penn State is a bit of a mystery heading into the 2022 college football season. Will this be a program that puts it all together again and makes a case for playoff conversations going into late October and November, or will the Nittany Lions once again come up small in the biggest game of the season and manage to keep its head just above the bowl eligibility requirement?
James Franklin has a new defensive coordinator in former Miami head coach Manny Diaz, and the running game has a long way to go to show it can improve, but Penn State has some good pieces in place to put together a fun season in Happy Valley. But the schedule is not particularly kind to the Nittany Lions, meaning they will have to claw their way back to respectability. Two of the first three games being played on the road have a chance to set the tone for the rest of the season in two drastically different ways. And getting Michigan and Ohio State in a three-week span is always a challenge.
Here is a look at what Penn State faces on the 2022 schedule this season, beginning on the road against Purdue on a Thursday night.
Bye: Week 6
Week 1 - Sept. 1 (Thursday) at Purdue (West Lafayette, Ind.)
For the third season in a row, Penn State will open a new season on the road in a Big Ten contest, and once again it is a tricky spot. Penn State opened the 2020 season with a loss at Indiana and started the '21 campaign with a win at Wisconsin. The Boilermakers are a tricky opponent to start the season.
The game also will be played on a Thursday night. It's rare that Penn State plays on a Thursday, but it should make for an interesting start to the season.
Week 2 - Sept. 10 vs. Ohio (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State's home opener will actually see the Nittany Lions attempt to stop a losing streak against a MAC opponent. Ohio won the most recent meeting in this series back in 2012, which started Bill O'Brien's Penn State tenure on a sour note. The Bobcats won just three games last season, so they may not be the same kind of threat this time around in Beaver Stadium.
Week 3 - Sept. 17 at Auburn (Auburn, Ala.)
One of the most entertaining non-conference games from 2021 heads south for the second game in a home-and-home series between Penn State and Auburn. The Nittany Lions won last year's contest with the Tigers and could be the better team this season, but a trip into SEC territory is rarely going to be an easy task.
Week 4 - Sept. 24 vs. Central Michigan (University Park, Pa.)
Some might consider Central Michigan a classic trap game for Penn State, and that makes sense. This is actually more of a letdown spot considering the big physical battle preceding it, and the Chippewas could be a pesky opponent for the host Nittany Lions if they are not careful. But expect Penn State to end September with a win. A 4-0 start is possible, but getting to this point at 3-1 would be considered a success.
Week 5 - Oct. 1 vs. Northwestern (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State jumps back into Big Ten play to start October by hosting Northwestern. The Wildcats are a team that should be handled by the Nittany Lions, but Pat Fitzgerald's teams always put up a respectable fight. They'll do just that in Happy Valley, but Penn State should muscle its way to a win. But it is worth noting Fitzgerald does have some success against James Franklin, including a 2-1 record to his advantage in Big Ten play. After this game, Penn State gets a needed bye week.
Week 7 - Oct. 15 at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Penn State comes off of its bye for visit to Ann Arbor to take on the reigning Big Ten champions. The Nittany Lions are just 4-8 all-time in games played in Michigan Stadium, but the road team has won each of the past two meetings in this divisional rivalry.
Week 8 - Oct. 22 vs. Minnesota (University Park, Pa.)
If there is a true trap game on Penn State's schedule, this is it. A week after a road trip to Michigan and a week before hosting Ohio State, the Nittany Lions host P.J. Fleck and Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are not to be taken lightly and they will surely be energized for this matchup. Minnesota won the last meeting in 2019 but Penn State did win the last game played in Beaver Stadium in 2016. That game helped put the Nittany Lions on the track to win a Big Ten title. Could it play a key role in another championship run this season?
Week 9 - Oct. 29 vs. Ohio State (University Park, Pa.)
There is no question that this will be one of the games fans are looking forward to the most. Any time Ohio State comes to town is a big event for Penn State, with a full stadium whiteout and, likely, a prime-time television audience. The stadium was closed to fans the last time the Buckeyes came to Beaver Stadium in 2020, so fans will be ramped up for this one. Ohio State has flat-out dominated this series over the past decade, which is why this is the game many feel the Nittany Lions have to win in order to be in the mix for a Big Ten championship. A victory could put Penn State on the inside track for the Big Ten East crown, especially if the Nittany Lions can leave Michigan Stadium with a win before this.
Week 10 - Nov. 5 at Indiana (Bloomington, Ind.)
Indiana had some struggles last season and it remains to be seen if those will continue in 2022. The Hoosiers will have some new key players leading the offense but Penn State knows it will be a battle in Bloomington. And who can forget the last time the Nittany Lions visited the Hoosiers? Sean Clifford surely remembers and would love to make up for it.
Week 11 - Nov. 12 vs. Maryland (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State returns home for a matchup with Maryland. The Terrapins embarrassed the Nittany Lions in Beaver Stadium on their last trip to Happy Valley in 2020, but Penn State has historically dominated this series. The Nittany Lions may have a little trouble putting Maryland away in this one, but should still be the favorite for this mid-November contest.
Week 12 - Nov. 19 at Rutgers (Piscataway, N.J.)
The final road game of the season will come at Rutgers just before Thanksgiving. Penn State has developed a knack for not necessarily having trouble beating the Scarlet Knights, but not being able to do so with any brute authority. Rutgers has a way of scrapping with the Nittany Lions and the late-season wear and tear has seemingly bogged Penn State down in this game the last couple of seasons. Don't be shocked if that's the case once again.
Week 13 - Nov. 26 vs. Michigan State (University Park, Pa.)
Finally, Penn State's regular-season finale will be played at home, and it will be one more opportunity for revenge. Michigan State topped the Nittany Lions in East Lansing last season in a game they would love to have back. Instead, Penn State will get a chance to avenge its loss in the Land-Grant Trophy game in what could be snowy conditions once again.
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