No. 6 Penn State vs. Akron: Nittany Lions look to hit ground running in opener

No. 6 Penn State vs. Akron
Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
Saturday, noon, ABC

Scouting Penn State
The sixth-ranked Nittany Lions, 11-3 and Big Ten champions in 2016, are looking to take another step in James Franklin’s fourth year as head coach. Running back Saquon Barkley, who rushed for 1,496 yards last season, is a preseason All-American and Heisman Trophy candidate. Quarterback Trace McSorley set single-season school records for passing yardage (3,614), touchdowns (29) and total offense (3,979) last season.

In all there are nine returning starters on offense, including tight end Mike Gesicki, who is also a preseason All-American, and left tackle Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood). While PSU is without cornerback John Reid (St. Joe’s Prep) because of a knee injury, six defensive starters return, notably middle linebacker Jason Cabinda and safety Marcus Allen. Allen topped the team with 110 tackles in 2016, the first player at his position to pace the Lions in that department since 2002.

Scouting Akron
The Zips, coached by former Auburn boss Terry Bowden (son of Bobby), return 15 starters from a team that went 5-7 a year ago. Quarterback Thomas Woodson has started most of the last two years, but missed four games in ’16 because of injury. He wound up completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 2,079 yards and 18 touchdowns, with six interceptions. Van Edwards (492 yards, 4.9 ypc) is the top returning rusher, while Austin Wolf (36 receptions for 550 yards and five TDs) is the leading returning receiver. Tra’Von Chapman, who played QB last year, has moved to wideout. Linebacker Ulysees Gilbert Jr. (122 tackles) is a Bednarik Award candidate.

History
Penn State has won all five meetings, including a 21-3 verdict in 2014, Franklin’s first home game as head coach.

Storyline to watch
Whether the Lions can hit the ground running. They were outscored 223-194 in first halves last season, but outscored their opponents 332-133 in second halves and overtimes.

What’s at stake
PSU has lofty aspirations this season. They can assuage the masses by cuffing around a Mid-American opponent.

Prediction
Penn State 45, Akron 14