Let’s go ahead and assume the list of goals for Penn State in 2017 includes winning the Big Ten East, winning the conference and earning a spot in the College Football Playoff after narrowly missing out last year.
Coach James Franklin doesn’t like to set goals, but those are going to be the expectations for a lot of people in 2017. Penn State’s roster is loaded with experience and just won the Big Ten.
To do so, the obvious, daunting challenge on the schedule is a trip to Columbus, Ohio, on the last weekend of October. Insert Halloween puns aplenty about playing at Ohio State.
That is not the most intriguing game on Penn State’s 2017 schedule, though. The contest the week before at Beaver Stadium is.
Michigan comes to Happy Valley on the second-to-last weekend in October. Getting the Wolverines and Buckeyes on back-to-back weeks wasn’t much of a favor from the conference, especially in a year when another Big Ten title is a possibility.
The Nittany Lions have a revenge game at home against Pitt in Week 2, and potentially tricky trips to Iowa and Northwestern in Weeks 4 and 6. Penn State wants 2017 to be a consolidation year, when the Nittany Lions prove the success from last season is sustainable.
To do that, they have to beat Michigan. Have to. A loss at Ohio Stadium would be disappointing, and might derail hopes of winning the division or the conference.
A loss to the Wolverines almost certainly will do so. Jim Harbaugh has bested James Franklin in both meetings since he became Michigan’s coach. Both times the Wolverines defense has dominated.
This time, it will be Penn State with the veteran team. Michigan has lots of blue-chip talent on its roster, but lots of questions after losing a gigantic senior class and junior do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers.
This will be the White Out game for Penn State. That means dozens of top recruits will be in the stadium to soak in the incredible atmosphere.
Showing that Penn State, in 2017 at least, is ahead of Michigan in the Big Ten pecking order would be a nice nugget to plant in those prospects’ heads. It would also likely set up the showdown for the Big Ten East the following week in Columbus.
When Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor, most pundits assumed Michigan would quickly become Ohio State’s greatest threat for Big Ten supremacy. That was actually Michigan State in his first year. It was actually Penn State last year.
Franklin and the Nittany Lions will have a chance to be that team again in 2017. If Penn State beats Michigan in front of 107,000 or so white-clad fans at Beaver Stadium.