After two straight years of falling short of playing for a Big Ten championship, the Penn State Nittany Lions face some new challenges in the James Franklin era this season. With no more Trace McSorley leading the offense and yet another starting running back to replace, Penn State looks to build a slightly new identity this season using some of the same philosophies that have built a contender the last few years.
The question is how will Penn State stack up this year against two popular Big Ten and College Football Playoff contenders within their own division. In addition, can these Nittany Lions avoid slipping up in some challenging spots that may fly under the radar for most teams. The crossover schedule with the Big Ten West avoids matchups with teams like Wisconsin and Northwestern, but Minnesota and Purdue should not be taken for granted.
Here is a look at Penn State’s upcoming 2019 football schedule, starting with the games that should be the easiest and working our way up to the tallest challenges facing the Nittany Lions this season.
12. Aug. 31 vs. Idaho
Penn State opens the 2019 season against Idaho at home. The Vandals enter their second season back in the FCS ranks and should be no match for a Penn State team looking to replace a good number of key starters.
11. Nov. 30 vs. Rutgers
Penn State will close out the regular season at home against what should be one of their easiest games of the year. Rutgers is a long way from being any sort of threat, especially on the road, and the Scarlet Knights could be ready to end their season by the time they travel to Happy Valley.
10. Sept. 7 vs. Buffalo
Buffalo could very well be capable of giving the Nittany Lions a bit of a battle early on, but the Bulls will lack the depth needed to pull a stunner in Beaver Stadium.
9. Nov. 16 vs. Indiana
The Hoosiers are known to give Penn State some troubles at times, but the series tends to be more of a mismatch when played in Penn State's home stadium. Every game in the series since 1995 played in Beaver Stadium has resulted in a double-digit victory for the Nittany Lions. Penn State is 21-1 all-time against Indiana.
8. Sept. 27 vs. Maryland
Penn State will get a bye week to prepare for a Friday night road trip south of the Mason-Dixon Line. So will Maryland. Penn State's last trip to College Park netted the Nittany Lions a 63-3 victory in 2017. That was almost as good as their most recent trip before that, a 70-7 victory in 1993.
7. Oct. 5 vs. Purdue
Jeff Brohm and Purdue could be a problem for Penn State in early October, but the Nittany Lions have won eight straight in this series and the Boilermakers still have plenty of room to improve when playing on the road.
6. Nov. 9 at Minnesota
Expect P.J. Fleck to have his Gophers fired up for this home game. With both teams getting a bye week to prepare, Minnesota may have a few tricks up their sleeve looking for a major win for the program in a year the Big Ten West could be up for grabs.
5. Sept. 14 vs. Pittsburgh
The fourth and final game in the renewal of the in-state rivalry should be a good one. Pitt was embarrassed last year on national TV by Penn State and the Panthers will look to even the score by slowing things down as much as possible.
4. Oct. 12 at Iowa
Penn State celebrated a last-second victory at Iowa two years ago and should be prepared for another good solid road test in mid-October. The Hawkeyes will break out a gold uniform for the special occasion.
3. Oct. 26 at Michigan State
The Spartans have really turned Penn State's last two seasons in a negative direction, so this is a significant revenge situation for the Nittany Lions. Winning in East Lansing has not been easy, with two losses in each of their last two trips for Penn State. Penn State is just 1-4 against the Wolverines since 2014.
2. Oct. 19 vs. Michigan
The Penn State-Michigan series has turned into an exchange of blowout victories by the home team the last three years. That trend may not continue this year, as this one could be much closer. A win against Michigan would be a big one for this Penn State team if they can get it.
1. Nov. 23 at Ohio State
New head coach, new starting quarterback, same challenge. Ohio State may have some changes with the program this season but the Buckeyes remain the team to beat in the Big Ten. Penn State has blown two fourth-quarter leads against the Buckeyes each of the past two seasons and could have an even more difficult time holding on to any potential leads this year in Columbus.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.