Year two of the James Franklin era at Penn State commences on Saturday afternoon just across the street from where he once sold programs at Phillies games. Penn State kicks off the 2015 season in Philadelphia against the Temple Owls, coached by former Nittany Lion linebacker Matt Rhule, and the Owls are not there to simply host Penn State’s season opener.
Temple has the potential to give Penn State some real trouble with a young defense that returns experience and an offense that is expected to improve with consistency this fall. Penn State has had the decisive upper hand in this series, but Temple has made the Nittany Lions work for some of the more recent wins. Will that once again be the case, or will Temple end its long losing streak to the in-state rivals from State College? Or will Penn State come out flexing some improved muscle on the offensive line and be able to hit cruise control by halftime?
Penn State at Temple
Kickoff: 3 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Penn State -7
Three Things to Watch
1. How much has Penn State’s offensive line improved?
This is the biggest question mark for Penn State entering the 2015 season, and could be the best opportunity Temple has to create an advantage. After a deplorable season in the trenches last year saw quarterback Christian Hackenberg run for his life or end a play on the ground far more often than desired, offensive line coach Herb Hand has had his work cut out for him. Hand has a solid reputation developing offensive lines, so the prospects look promising for Penn State’s offensive line concerns. The additions of Kevin Reihner (Stanford graduate transfer) and Paris Palmer (junior college transfer) should help immediately add some depth to the line, and having a few starters back from 2014 should help as well. They will be put to the test early by Temple’s feisty defensive front.
2. Can Temple find any offensive consistency against Bob Shoop’s defense?
If Temple is going to score an upset of Penn State then the offense has to make some things happen. Temple has gone 12 straight meetings without scoring more than 14 points against the Nittany Lions, and it has not always been for a lack of opportunities. Turnovers are key in every game, and that should be the case here as Owls QB P.J. Walker looks to get in a groove against one of the best defenses he will see this season. Walker has been up and down at times but the junior returns with a chance to become a true player to watch.
3. Will Penn State’s kicking game be a concern?
Penn State bids farewell to the trusted leg of Sam Ficken and now hopes for the best with freshman kicker Joey Julius, who certainly is not lacking for size. Franklin calls Julius “Big Toe” and will have to hope for the best as the redshirt freshman looks to provide accuracy and distance in the kicking game.
Temple is a scary team for Penn State out of the gate, perhaps more than most will give credit for being. If Penn State’s offensive line struggles to find some cohesiveness early on, Temple’s defense can set the tone. However, Penn State’s offense should have a few more reliable drives in them than Temple will be able to muster against the Nittany Lions defense. Look for a sluggish start, but Penn State to begin pulling away in the second half.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Temple 16
— 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 writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.