Penn State Football once again will have a tall task managing another tough schedule in 2022.
The Nittany Lions have road tests early and often in September, will play host to Ohio State for the first time in a full Beaver Stadium since 2018 in October, and will get a shot to bring the Land Grant Trophy back to Happy Valley, when the Spartans come to town for the season finale.
Las Vegas has set the over/under win total for head coach James Franklin’s squad at 8.5, but would even nine wins satisfy Penn State Football fans this fall?
Is this team going to prove the last two years were outliers due to Covid-19, and a Sean Clifford injury? Or, is six to eight wins going to just become the norm in Happy Valley, and fans should stop disillusioning themselves with dreams of Big Ten Championships and playoff berths every August?
Below we will break the team’s schedule into three tiers by the level of opponents, taking a look at realistic outcomes of some toss-up games they’ll face this season and see what some best-case/worst-case scenarios could leave Penn State Football come the end of November.
Penn State Football’s 2022 schedule tiers:
Tier 1 Games
At Michigan, vs. Ohio State
As they do most years, these two matchups jump off the page when you glance over Penn State Football’s schedule.
A trip to Ann Arbor in mid October against the reigning Big Ten Champions (yes, that’s going to take some getting used to) will be their third tough road test to that point after trips to Purdue and Auburn, so the Nittany Lions should be battle tested.
However, track record suggests coming away with a victory here is a tough ask as James Franklin has only one win in his tenure in State College at Michigan, which came in 2020 in an empty Michigan Stadium.
The Lions figure to be around a touchdown underdog in this one, so it’s not out of the question, but by no means a game Penn State Football fans should expect to win.
The second game here has been a big topic of discussion for fans, as potential kick times and tv networks have been the major concern.
A potential for a noon or 4pm kickoff is very legitimate for this one if FOX takes this game, meaning this game, which was not awarded the annual “White Out” could be played under different then usual conditions.
None the less, getting the Buckeyes at home is a huge advantage for the Nittany Lions. They will be a significant underdog in this one, but they have been known to give Ohio State trouble in these spots before.
Expectation for Tier 1 Games: 0-2
Tier 2 Games
At Purdue, At Auburn, Minnesota, Michigan State
The tier two slate of games features two tough road tests early in the season, and two toss up games the Nittany Lions will get at home.
The Week 1 primetime matchup at Purdue has the feeling of last year’s week one trip to Wisconsin.
The outcome here could very well shape the feelings and expectations for potentially the remainder of the season.
A loss inside Ross-Ade Stadium, and Penn State Football could very well be staring at three losses by the middle of October. But, a road win, and optimism grows for the next big road trip at Auburn and takes pressure off of that game.
Auburn may not be a very good football team this season, and has major question marks at quarterback.
However, a trip to Jordan Hare can never be taken lightly and with an early spread of Auburn favored by a point, it seems even the guys in the desert are unsure of what to think of this one.
Minnesota has actually been pinned for the White Out this year, and this game has some juicy storylines as is.
The 2019 game, Kirk Ciarrocca back as the OC in Minnesota and this may very well be one of the oldest quarterback matchups in college football history with Sean Clifford and Tanner Morgan.
Minnesota is a Big Ten West sleeper this season, however coming into Beaver Stadium in White Out conditions is not going to be easy.
The battle for the Land Grant is another one that is practically impossible to predict or analyze at this point.
Either team being in playoff contention, or just fighting for a bowl berth, both seems possible as Mel Tucker has once again relied heavily on the transfer portal to build this roster.
Only time will tell if he can strike gold with this strategy a second consecutive year.
Expectations for Tier 2 Games: 3-1
Tier 3 Games
Ohio, Central Michigan, Northwestern, At Indiana, Maryland, At Rutgers
On the surface, Penn State Football gets six games they should handle with relative ease.
The even better news is, they get to play four of those six games in the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium.
The MAC opponents of Ohio and CMU are probably trickier than most casual fans would give them credit for, especially with them both coming on the heels of major road games in September.
The possibility of let down games is very real for both of these.
Northwestern and Maryland are both programs who could overachieve in 2022 but it is hard to see either team coming into Happy Valley and walking away with a win. The Northwestern game does come before the trip to Ann Arbor, but besides that there’s not much reason for concern.
A trip to Indiana will certainly bring back bad memories for Nittany Lion fans after the fateful ending of the 2020 season opener in Bloomington. However, that feels like a lifetime ago, and so many changes have occurred to this Indiana team between now and then, and not many for the better. That class of experienced juniors and seniors has moved on, and the Hoosiers once again should feature one of the worst offenses in the conference.
A trip to Piscataway in November should be like a kwazi home game of sorts as the Penn State Football faithful always fill the stadium, and despite Rutgers looking like a team that is trending in the right direction, this is a must win for Penn State Football for so many reasons, they won’t drop this one.
Tier 3 expectations: 6-0
This breakdown of the schedule would net out to a 9-3 record for the Nittany Lions.
This would leave James Franklin’s squad in decent position for a potential New Year’s Six Bowl Game, or if not another at least another New Year’s Day game.
This would surpass Vegas expectations for this team, but would this be considered a successful season for Franklin?