Although Penn State and Purdue are coming off 2021 campaigns that saw both teams earn bowl berths, it would be fair to presume that they are hoping for even better results in the upcoming college football season. Both experienced a series of ups and downs last year and would like to have a more consistently successful 2022 season.
Penn State started out 5-0 in 2021 and then suffered a 23-20 loss at Iowa that changed the trajectory of its season. Losses to Illinois, at Ohio State, Michigan, and at Michigan State followed over the remainder of the season, culminating in a 24-10 loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl, to see the Nittany Lions conclude their season at 7-6.
Purdue is coming off its highest win total since 2003, as the Boilermakers went 9-4, including a 48-45 overtime win over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl. Purdue lost two key members of their 2021 team to the NFL with wide receiver David Bell and defensive end George Karlaftis, and the pressure will be on to replace such talented individuals who contributed so much to the team's success.
Penn State at Purdue
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
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Spread: Penn State -3.5
When Penn State Has the Ball
Part of the aforementioned decline Penn State experienced was a result of injuries to starting quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford is back for another season as the starter and is the key to the success of the Nittany Lion offense. Parker Washington returns as Penn State's leading receiver, after racking up 64 receptions for 820 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2021.
Penn State will be looking to improve upon their running game, bolstered by the return of Keyvone Lee (530 yds., 2 TDs), as well as the addition of freshmen Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen. The inability of Penn State to effectively run the ball in 2021 put a strain on the offense overall and will be something to note as the Nittany Lions travel to West Lafayette in the season opener.
When Purdue Has the Ball
Like Penn State with Clifford, Purdue has the advantage of a returning starter at quarterback in Aidan O'Connell. O'Connell passed for 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2021, and should be even better in his third season as the Boilermakers' starter.
Purdue will be relying upon transfers at the wide receiver position, with both Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones coming in from Iowa to play the position. At his press conference previewing the season opener, Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said, "I think our transfers will have a huge impact." Another key target for O'Connell returns in tight end Payne Durham, who had 45 receptions and six touchdowns in 2021. Durham also provides steady blocking for the Purdue running game.
Playing at Ross-Ade Stadium, especially at night, is not an easy task for any visiting team. Considering it is Game 1 and both teams have experienced personnel losses, it is truly a toss-up. Even though the odds are in Penn State's favor, I am going to lean toward Purdue to take this in a close one.