Two years after winning the Big Ten and playing in the Rose Bowl and one season after playing in and winning the Fiesta Bowl, the bar continues to be raised for James Franklin and Penn State. Despite some key changes to the team with roster and staff adjustments this offseason, the Nittany Lions still look to the 2018 season with some big goals in sight if they can take care of business along the way.
A possible Big Ten championship run is a realistic possibility, as is a potential trip to the College Football Playoff. Doing either will not be easy and will most certainly be earned considering the competition to come at the Nittany Lions this fall.
Penn State gets some favors on its schedule in Big Ten play this season, including a bye week between home games against Ohio State and Michigan State, but having to play Michigan and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks in November could throw a wrench in the Nittany Lions' outlook late in the year with little time to recover (although Penn State gets a comfortable pair of games to close out the regular season).
Penn State Nittany Lions 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 6
Week 1 – Sept. 1 vs. Appalachian State (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State opens the season at home against one of the top Sun Belt teams. Appalachian State is coming off a fourth straight winning season and a third straight bowl victory and will not be intimidated, but Penn State should have the talent and depth advantage to score a win in the opener.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 at Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
The in-state rivalry with the ACC’s Pitt Panthers continues for a third straight season, and Penn State will look to make up for a rough trip to the west side of the state two years ago. Pitt is coming off a five-win season that included a 33-14 loss to the Nittany Lions. Expect a battle, but Penn State comes into the game on much more solid footing.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. Kent State (University Park, Pa.)
After Pitt, Penn State returns home to play Kent State, one of the most woeful of programs from the MAC. The Golden Flashes are coming off a two-win season. This should be a bit of a breather for Penn State before Big Ten play opens up.
Week 4 – Sept. 21 at Illinois (Champaign, Il.)
Penn State opens its Big Ten schedule on the road against the Illini. Winners of five games over the last two seasons, Illinois looks like a program that shouldn’t give Penn State too much trouble on the road. Penn State lost its last trip to Champaign in 2014, but the state of each program has changed dramatically since then. Advantage: Penn State.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 vs. Ohio State (University Park, Pa.)
September comes to a close with a bang at home. The Ohio State Buckeyes come to Happy Valley for a whiteout game, and it could be a matchup of undefeated top 10 (top five?) teams, with plenty riding on the outcome in the Big Ten East Division. The winner likely becomes the favorite to win the division, although each will have some battles to come. But the importance of this game cannot be overstated. This is a big one.
Week 7 – Oct. 13 vs. Michigan State (University Park, Pa.)
Penn State gets a bye week after Ohio State before its next home game. This also happens to be a revenge game. The Spartans stunned Penn State in East Lansing in a weather-delayed slugfest, effectively taking Penn State out of the Big Ten and playoff picture entirely. If Penn State can scratch together two wins against Ohio State and Michigan State, the path to the playoff could be paved. But challenges remain.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 at Indiana (Bloomington, Ind.)
The Nittany Lions hit the road for the second time in Big Ten play with a road trip to face the Hoosiers. This could be the classic recipe for a letdown game after two pivotal and tough matchups in conference play, although Indiana may lack the firepower needed to apply too much pressure.
Week 9 – Oct. 27 vs. Iowa (University Park, Pa.)
Iowa nearly pulled off an upset of the Nittany Lions last season, but Trace McSorley’s touchdown pass on the final play of the game resulted in one of the most thrilling wins for Penn State in recent memory. Penn State has tended to play Iowa better at home in recent encounters, but a tough defensive battle is always a possibility against the Hawkeyes.
Week 10 – Nov. 3 at Michigan (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
The start of November takes Penn State to The Big House, where we will know just how much Michigan’s offense has improved this season (assuming it does). This will be no easy trip for Penn State. The Nittany Lions have won in Ann Arbor just once since 1998 (1-7 in their last eight trips). The home team has won the last two meetings in this series by at least 29 points. This one should be closer.
Week 11 – Nov. 10 vs. Wisconsin (University Park, Pa.)
It doesn’t get any easier for Penn State the following week. As the Nittany Lions return home to Beaver Stadium, they welcome the top program from the West Division, Wisconsin. The matchup with the Badgers could be a potential Big Ten Championship Game preview if Penn State wins some key games before this, and it should be a good test for the offense. Penn State has won five of the last six meetings with Wisconsin since 2007.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 at Rutgers (Piscataway, N.J.)
Things should get a little easier for Penn State in the final two weeks of the season. With the big hurdles behind, the Nittany Lions travel to Rutgers for a late-season matchup, which should be a favorable draw for the visitors by the end of the season.
Week 13 – Nov. 24 vs. Maryland (University Park, Pa.)
The regular-season finale comes at home against Maryland. Last season, Penn State ended the regular season with a 66-3 victory against the Terrapins in College Park. Since losing their first matchup as Big Ten foes in 2014, Penn State has outscored Maryland 135-47 in three straight games. The Nittany Lions should end the season with a win as they look toward the postseason.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. 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.