FACTS & STATS: Site: Beaver Stadium (106,572) -- University Park, Pennsylvania. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Ohio U. 0-0, Penn St. 0-0. Away Record: Ohio U. 0-0, Penn St. 0-0. Neutral Record: Ohio U. 0-0, Penn St. 0-0. Conference Record: Ohio U. 0-0, Penn St. 0-0. Series Record: Penn State leads, 5-0.
GAME NOTES: The Penn State Nittany Lions will take their first step in moving on from a tumultuous offseason when they host the Ohio University Bobcats at Beaver Stadium to open the 2012 season.
Ohio has become a Mid-American Conference power in recent years under head coach Frank Solich, and 2011 was one of its best seasons yet. The Bobcats finished 6-2 in the conference and represented the East Division in the MAC championship game, although they lost to Northern Illinois, 23-20. Still, they were good enough to qualify for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl where they defeated Utah State, 24-23, to finish the season at 10-4.
Before Penn State eventually fell into turmoil, the football team started out very well in 2011, winning nine of its first ten games, with it's only loss coming to eventual national champion Alabama. Details of the Jerry Sandusky scandal began to emerge however, which was followed shortly by the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno. Football took a backseat in Happy Valley, and the team went on to lose three of its final four games. PSU hopes to start fresh with new head coach Bill O'Brien here in 2012, although the program was crippled further by recent NCAA sanctions that include a four-year bowl ban, $60 million in fines, and the loss of numerous scholarships.
Penn State has never lost to Ohio in five previous meetings, although the teams haven't met since Nov. 16, 1974. The Nittany Lions won that clash, 35-16.
Ohio's hurry-up offense last year led to incredible results as the team set single-season school records for points (427) and yardage (449.3 per game).
Quarterback Tyler Tettleton was spectacular in his first season as the starter. The dual-threat was just as effective through the air (3,306 passing yards, 28 TDs) as he was on the ground (666 rushing yards, 10 TDs).
The loss of Tettleton's top two receiving targets -- LaVon Brazill and Riley Dunlop -- may hinder the Bobcats' passing numbers this season. Donte Foster (352 yards, 5 TDs) will try to step up to become the new No. 1 target, while Tyler Futrell, Mario Dovell and true freshman Chris Murray expect to be in the mix as well.
Tettleton's legs helped the rushing attack (200.3 ypg) finish 23rd in the nation a year ago. The loss of Donte Harden (986 yards) means that combination of Beau Blankenship and Ryan Boykin will need to pick up the slack at tailback.
Ohio had the best scoring defense (22.1 ppg) of any team returning to the MAC this year, and the unit boasts seven returning starters.
The Bobcats have a deep defensive line rotation highlighted by ends Tremayne Scott (8 TFL, 3.5 sacks) and Corey Hasting (48 tackles, 3.5 sacks). The linebacking corps appears to be thin, especially considering the loss of Noah Keller (116 tackles), but Keith Moore and Jelani Woseley have shown enough promise to keep the unit afloat.
Cornerback Travis Carrie is back for his senior season and he is perhaps the team's best defensive player. He had a league-best 17 passes defended and 4 interceptions in 2011, earning Second Team All-MAC honors. Safety Gerald Moore (84 tackles, 2 INTs) also figures to be a big piece to the secondary once again.
Predicting how Penn State will respond following the fallout from the NCAA sanctions is next to impossible considering the number of players who have since left the program, including star running back Silas Redd, who joined the backfield for top-ranked USC.
With Rob Bolden also jettisoning to a national championship contender (LSU), the quarterback job goes almost by default to Matt McGloin. Splitting time last year, McGloin put up modest numbers (.541 completion percentage, 1,571 yards, 8 TDs, 5 INTs), but with no one really looking over his shoulder, he should have ample opportunity to improve those numbers in his senior season.
The running back position without Redd remains a big question mark, with Bill Belton, Derek Day and Akeel Lynch having combined for fewer than 100 yards rushing in their careers.
The receiver position is equally puzzling. Shawney Kersey (five catches for 108 yards in 2011) returns and should be a big-play threat for McGloin. Allen Robinson is just as inexperienced -- he had only three catches in 2011 -- although he is drawing high praise from the coaching staff.
The Nittany Lion defense should be in better shape than the offense as it returns five starters, but there's still plenty of doubt there as well.
The team lost star defensive tackle and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Devon Still to the NFL, but the combination of Jordan Hill, Sean Stanley and Pete Massaro should make for a formidable defensive line.
Historically, Penn State has always bred great linebackers, and this year's bunch is no different, with standouts Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson all returning. There is however a glaring hole in the secondary. With no returning starters in the defensive backfield, Penn State will need to rely on inexperienced guys in Adrian Amos, Da'Quan Davis, Stephon Morris and Malcolm Willis.
Penn State is no doubt in for a rough couple of seasons, but for the time being, the Nittany Lions have enough returning talent to still be relatively competitive in 2012. Ohio is a proven winner and it has a good shot at pulling off an upset here, but Penn State will prevail in front of its home crowd.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 27, Ohio University 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 1, 12:00 p.m. (et)