SOC - Penn State 2023
I have no feel for this one at all. I know that this is the best Penn State team since maybe 2016, but given that they've only played West Virginia and Delaware so far (starting left tackle for Delaware: Blaise Sparks), this first road test might be a true test for them. But then, are we any good? Are we ready to play #7? I'm just all over the place.
Let's start with them. The last time we played Penn State, we beat them (when they were ranked #7) with the catch in the photo up there. But even though they were #7 at the time, they weren't anywhere close to the seventh-best team in the country. They finished the year unranked and 7-6. So while we beat #7 that day, they weren't really #7.
This team, I think, is really #7. Perhaps #5. Maybe even a playoff team. They went 12-2 last year and won the Rose Bowl, losing only to Michigan and Ohio State (two playoff teams). They return a ton and might legitmately challenge those two teams for the Big Ten East title. This is not the team confused by the Barge Package. This is a team, if they didn't have to play Michigan and Ohio State, would be rolling into town with maybe a 17-game winning streak.
So while this sets up as a possible sneak-up-on-'em game (they've played two easy games at home and now go on the road), I can't get past the fact that they might be playoff good. I'll look at their new quarterback's stats and see that he hasn't thrown a college interception yet and it immediately makes me think "first road game for this kid? 2 picks guaranteed." But then I'll watch his highlights and think "this kid will be Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year before his career is over."
Every time my brain drifts to "this is where we shock the world", I'm pulled right back by "I feel like Penn State goes 1-1 against Michigan and Ohio State and finishes the year 11-1." If that's the team I see, then there's no way they're going to lose in Champaign, right?
The reason I do these Stream Of Consciousness posts on Friday night is to let all of my thoughts develop for the entire week. Eventually, when I think about the upcoming game off-and-on throughout the week, my brain settles somewhere. I get a feeling about where the game might go. For this one, I got nothin'.
So maybe I should just make this a very short SOC? Maybe some lists will help. I'll do the pros and cons thing like when you're trying to help a friend decide "stay together or break up?" Two lists and then I'll decide which one sounds better.
- Penn State is going on the road for the first time with a young QB. Just that right there makes the chances of a sluggish first half 88%.
- We're coming back home after a bad road performance and we've typically rebounded nicely in those situations the last two years.
- Matt Bailey returns to the lineup and gets us a step closer to a cohesive secondary.
- Luke Altmyer will be the first true test for this Penn State defense. We've faced two very good QB's. Penn State hasn't been tested at all.
- Even teams that win the Big Ten East often have that September road game where they barely survive at some Big Ten West opponent.
- Pass rush scares me to death. If Kansas got to Altmyer six times, I feel like Chop Robinson and company will get to him ten times.
- The best defense we'll face this year is probably Iowa, but it might be Penn State. Actually, there's a chance this is the best offense and defense we face this year.
- Penn State has 46 four-stars and 3 five-stars on their roster. Illinois has 6 four-stars and 0 five-stars.
- I keep thinking about what Devin Neal did to us on the ground last week and then I look at the talent in the Penn State running back room.
- In the first seven games last year we gave up 59 points. In the first two games this year we've given up 62 points. This just isn't going to be the same defense.
When I read those two lists, I'm sorry, I just lean towards the second one. This will be our most difficult game. If Iowa falters this season, Penn State might be the only ranked opponent we play. I just can't see us winning a game against the best team we'll play all year. I think we keep it close, but I think Penn State wins.
Penn State 33, Illinois 24