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Know thy Opponent 2016: Penn State Nittany Lions

Purdue and Penn State haven't played since 2013, but don't expect results to be different.

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

It has been awhile since Purdue and Penn State have played each other in football, but with 14 Big Ten teams that's to be expected with east crossovers. Now that there are nine conference games instead of eight it will cut down on long breaks between games with opponents, but going 3-4 years between games with the Nittany Lions will be quite common.

That might be a good thing when you consider it has been awhile since Purdue has played Penn State. History has not been kind with our Boilers against them. Purdue has only three wins against Penn State, and just one of them in Happy Valley. Wisconsin is the only opponent that Purdue has a less recent win over in Big Ten play. Penn State has won seven in a row over Purdue, and even though they aren't expected to contend for the east crown, getting an eighth straight win over Purdue is expected.

Penn State Nittany Lions

2015 Record: 7-6, 4-4 Big Ten

Bowl result: Lost 24-17 to Georgia in Taxslayer Bowl

Blog Representation: Black Shoe Diaries

Series with Purdue: Penn State leads 13-3-1

Last Purdue win: 10/9/2004 at Penn State 20-13

Last Penn State win: 11/16/2013 at Penn State 45-21

Head Coach: James Franklin (38-27 overall, 14-12 in third year at Penn State)

Last Season for the Nittany Lions:

As long as they didn't play a ranked team last season the Nittany Lions did well. Despite a season opening loss to Temple (their first such loss in 74 years) they started the season pretty well at 5-1. The only win of note in there came over Indiana, however. They lost at No. 1 Ohio state, then beat Maryland and Illinois before losing their last four games. They played Northwestern close, but Michigan and Michigan State beat them pretty soundly in the last two weeks of the season. When you add a loss to Georgia in their bowl game, that meant a second straight 7-6 season.

A large reason for Penn State's overall struggles came from an offensive line that was simply atrocious. That led to a punchless (at times) offense that somehow scored fewer points than the vaunted Shoopfense. They still had a good defense and one of the best running backs in Saquon Barkley.

Penn State Offense

The offense is going to begin with Barkley, who is projected to be among the league's best. Last season he rushed for 1,076 yards and 7 TDs in only 11 games. He should have a big year even after Akeel Lynch transferred. Miles Sanders comes in as possibly the best true freshman running back in the country, and he is expected to play a lot. Andre Robinson was also a very highly rated recruit, and Black Shoe Diaries believes this could be the best Nittany Lion backfield in ages.

The running game will need to produce because the passing game that struggled will no longer have Christian Hackenberg, who left early for the NFL. That leaves Tommy Stevens, a redshirt freshman with no experience, as the presumptive starter. Trace McSorley has the most experience of anyone who is returning, but that is only 185 yards on 20 completions and two touchdowns. There is some promise with Stevens, but he is still an untested freshman behind a line that struggled a lot last season.

Stevens will have a very good receiver to throw to in Chris Godwin. Godwin caught 69 passes for 1,101 yards and 5 touchdowns. That got him a Third Team all-Big Ten selection by the coaches and Second Team by the coaches. DaeSean Hamilton (45-580-6) also had a good year and will be a solid second option. Big things are also expected from Juwan Johnson.

The offensive line, as mentioned, needs a lot of help. It surrendered 39 sacks and 93 tackles for loss in 2015. By comparison, Purdue only gave up 30 sacks and 67 tackles for loss. There are four starters returning, but we can likely expect wholesale changes. BSD thinks that as many as three freshmen, including one true freshman, could play.

Penn State Defense

As bad as the Penn State offense was at times, the defense could be an absolute wrecking crew. It generated an impressive 46 sacks and 106 tackles for loss, but created only 16 turnovers. Overall the unit was fantastic against the pass at only 173.5 yards per game given up and just 14 passing scores.

A big reason for their success was B1G Defensive Player of the Year Carl Nassib. He was a one-man beast with 15.5 sacks, 46 tackles, and an interception to go with 6 forced fumbles. Thankfully, he is off to the NFL as the 65th overall pick of the Browns. Garrett Sickels is the only returning starter on the defensive line and he had 35 tackles, three sacks, and two fumble recoveries. Parker Cothren and Antoine White will be promoted to starters at tackle after serving as solid reserves last season.

Of course, Penn State is most known for its history with linebackers. That should be no different in 2016. Jason Cabinda had 100 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception and should be one of the most experienced linebackers in the conference. Brandon Bell and Nyeen Wartman-White are also likely locked in as starters. Bell was quite disruptive on the edge with 65 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and an interception.

The secondary could be a bit of a question mark, however. Marcus Allen is an excellent safety with 81 tackles and a sack, but he does not have a definite strong safety to play with him. Grant Haley and John Reid should be the starting corners and each had a pair of interceptions last season. Overall, the defense should still be good enough to give the Nittany Lions at least a chance to win almost every game.

Penn State Special Teams

Tyler Davis split time at kicker last season and was a solid 8 of 8 on field goals while going 11 of 11 on PATs. He should be good in a kicking game that was already pretty solid overall. Penn State hit on 90 of its field goals last season as a team, so the kicking game is not a worry.

In the punting game Daniel Pasquariello struggled, averaging less than 40 yards per punt. Koa Farmer and DeAndre Tompkins will likely handle kick and punt return duties, respectively.

Game Outlook

If the Nittany Lions can solidify the offensive line they should be a good team. Their offensive backfield should be tremendous and they only need a series of large men up front to plow the road for them. The defense should also be pretty good. Yes, there are some holes, but they have solid linebackers and the front seven as a whole should be good.

That said, this won't be a team that contends for the East crown, mostly because Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan will just be that good. Expect Penn State to be a solid 4th in the East, and if they upset one of the top three I would not be surprised. Because of that, they will likely be a lot better than Purdue.

What makes this game hard to call is that Purdue hasn't seen them in so long. The last time Purdue and Penn State played they were under a completely different coach and still reeling from the Sandusky affair. Things are at least a little more settled now. This is a team that should be good in the 7-9 win range, but not great.

Way Too Early Prediction

Penn State is the best team from the East that the Boilers face and they have the kind of running game that Purdue has failed to stop every time for the past decade. Penn State 31, Purdue 14