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2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Penn State


2015 Big Ten preseason preview: Penn State


As football season inches closer, we take a look at the early preseason previews of every team for the 2015 Big Ten Season, ranking numbers 14 through one until we finally hit September 3rd. 


2014 Record: 7-6 (2-6) 

Key games: at Maryland, Michigan, at Michigan State   

Players to watch:  QB Christian Hackenberg, DT Anthony Zettel, entire OL


James Franklin is only entering his second season in Happy Valley; he’s already facing higher expectations.

His inaugural year as head coach had its ups and downs. The team finished with a winning record of 7-6, but 2-6 in the conference left much to be desired for Nittany Lions fans. 

They opened the year with four straight victories that began the James Franklin era with optimism. However, a blowout loss at home to Northwestern reminded Franklin there was still plenty of room for improvement. The next three games would go on to define the season, dropping consecutive heartbreakers to Michigan, Ohio State, and Maryland.

The signs were there, though, and most wouldn’t have expected any better in Franklin’s first year. But, improvement will without a doubt be awaited; and expected. The 2015 schedule provides a prime opportunity, as the Nittany Lions face a fairly easy slate of non-conference games. 

Despite a tricky opener at an underrated Temple team, Penn State will head in favorites to that and other non-conference contests against Buffalo, San Diego State, and Army. They also find a favorable draw from the other side of the Big Ten, against Illinois and Northwestern from the West division. 

This is especially good news with the daunting Big Ten East looming on the horizon. They’ll travel to Ohio State, Maryland, and Michigan State while welcoming to Happy Valley Rutgers, Indiana, and Michigan. The Nittany Lions will look for revenge against Maryland and Michigan, in what should be two pivotal games for the season. 

On offense, most of the conversation will center on quarterback Christian Hackenberg, unquestionably one of the most talented players in the conference and nation alike. However, as last season showed, a quarterback can only succeed so much without a competent offensive line to protect him. 

In 2014, and young and inexperienced offensive line for Penn State can only be described as a disaster. Hackenberg was sacked a Big Ten high 44 times last year, seven more than any other team and 33 more than conference best Michigan State. The struggles continued just as much in the running game, allowing the fourth-most run stuffs in the backfield nationwide. 

Luckily, the offensive line should be improved in 2015, with a year of experience under their belts and the addition of JUCO offensive tackle Paris Palmer. They will almost assuredly be better this year than last. The important question will be just how much? 

If they do improve in the trenches, Hackenberg will find a multitude of playmakers to move the ball down the field. Wide receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis provide a proficient combination catching the ball, while junior running back Akeel Lynch will be a steady presence in the backfield. There’s also the inclusion of true freshman Saquon Barkley, a running back possessing big-play ability and already drawing high praise in the offseason. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Penn State should once again feature an extremely stout unit that ranked top-10 nationally a year ago. 

The defense line should again be dynamic, with defensive tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson leading the charge in the trenches. There’ll be some new faces on the outside, but there’s high hope sophomore Garret Sickles and senior Carl Nassib can fill the void. 

And, though they lose star linebacker Mike Hull, they return every other player to maintain a deep and talented linebacker corps. 

Finally there’s the secondary, which also returns three starters in what was a strong group last season. Safeties Jordan Lucas and Marcus Allen will head the way, giving Penn State a fail-safe to rely upon in the back of the field. 

All in all – the defense should be fantastic. 

And, if the offense can improve greatly or even just slightly, Penn State will no longer be an up and coming program – they’ll be here. 

Prediction: 9-4 (4-4); fourth in Big Ten East   


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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

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Palmer's big 2nd half lifts Huskers past Maryland

LINCOLN, Neb. -- James Palmer Jr. scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half, Isaiah Roby had all 11 of his after half, and Nebraska held off Maryland 70-66 on Tuesday night.

Palmer and Roby combined for 35 of the Cornhuskers' 40 second-half points, and they secured their first 20-win season since 2008. They won a sixth straight conference game for the first time in 20 years.

Palmer scored 15 straight points for the Huskers (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) over a 10-minute span that ended when Roby hit one of two free throws with 2:57 left for a 64-59 lead. Roby had a double-double, with 10 rebounds, and he also blocked three shots.

The Terps (17-11, 6-9) had a chance to take the lead with a minute to play, but Glynn Watson Jr. blocked Anthony Cowan Jr.'s 3-point try, Evan Taylor came up with the loose ball and got it to Watson.

Watson missed a 3-pointer coming out of a timeout, and Roby got the rebound and was immediately fouled. He made both free throws for a 66-63 lead. Kevin Huerter's layin cut it to one point before Watson made two free throws.

Huerter went to the line with 2.8 seconds left, and after making the first free throw he intentionally missed the second. Palmer got the rebound, was fouled and put the game away with two free throws.

Bruno Fernando led the Terps with 21 points and nine rebounds. Huerter added 12 points and Darryl Morsell had 11.


Maryland: The Terps' fading NCAA Tournament hopes might have been dashed with their seventh straight road loss.

Nebraska: The Huskers are resting firmly on the NCAA bubble and absolutely needed this win. They got it, thanks to Palmer and Roby's efforts in the second half.


Maryland hosts Rutgers on Saturday. It's the teams' only meeting this season.

Nebraska visits Illinois. The Huskers beat the Illini 64-63 in Lincoln on Jan. 15.

RELATED: DMV College Basketball Power Rankings: Missed opportunities

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Maryland overwhelmed by Penn State in close loss


Maryland overwhelmed by Penn State in close loss

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Lamar Stevens feels like he's playing his most consistent basketball right now, a bad omen for upcoming opponents considering Penn State expects its hybrid forward to do a little bit of everything.

Just like he did on Wednesday.

Stevens scored 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting with 14 in the second half to lift Penn State over Maryland 74-70.


"Lamar really stepped up for us," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "We needed every one of those points that he had tonight."

Tony Carr added 16 points, Josh Reaves scored 14, and Mike Watkins added 11 for the Nittany Lions (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten Conference), who equaled their previous best mark for conference victories under Chambers.

"The best teams always find ways to win," Stevens said. "We locked down when we had to, got huge stops, huge rebounds and I think that's a huge step for this team."

With Maryland (16-10, 5-8) up 20-14 midway through the first half, Stevens nailed his first of two 3-pointers to spark a quick 9-0 run that helped Penn State take control.

He rolled layups off his fingers and sank midrange jumpers on multiple back-to-back possessions in the second half, where he scored 11 of his team's first 20 points.

"He made some incredible, incredible shots," Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said. "He was terrific, he was so efficient."

Stevens added four rebounds, two assists and was 3-for-4 on free throws with all three makes coming in the final 5:48 as Maryland threatened.


Anthony Cowan Jr. led Maryland with 15 points while Kevin Huerter and Bruno Fernando added 13 apiece.

Darryl Morsell had 10 points for the Terrapins, who cut a 10-point deficit with 8:11 to play to just three with 1:13 left.

"I didn't think we competed in the first half defensively," Turgeon said. "I thought in the second half, we were really trying hard."


Maryland: The Terrapins' disappointing season continues and they have dropped to 7-7 since stalwart forward Justin Jackson's season was ended by a torn shoulder ligament in late December. Although they shot better than their season average, the Terrapins were badly outplayed in the paint, getting outscored 32-22 and outrebounded 27-23.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions are playing an exciting brand of basketball as of late. They have a combined 22 dunks over their last three home games and opponents are finding it hard to play fast against a team that thrives on speed.