Week One: Penn State vs. Syracuse Preview

Penn State head football coach Bill O'Brien speaks during his weekly NCAA college football news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Nabil K. Mark)

Location: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. 

Time: 3:30 p.m.

Forecast: Partly sunny, 85 degrees


Three Headlines 

  • True freshman Christian Hackenberg will start at quarterback for Penn State, according a report made by ESPN on Friday. Hackenberg and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson have been mired in a position battle all fall. Coach Bill O’Brien did not plan to disclose his starting quarterback until the first offensive series against Syracuse, but he said on the “Penn State Football Show” on Thursday that a decision had been made and the team was aware of that decision. However, O’Brien added that Ferguson could still see some time under center in his first Penn State game. One of the nation’s most highly touted prospects, Hackenberg would be Penn State’s third true freshman to start at quarterback — Rob Bolden was the last in 2010. Per the Nittany Lions’ team policy, it is extremely unlikely that Hackenberg will be made available to the media after the game — or the rest of the season — due to his freshman eligibility. 
  • Penn State will look to start Bill O’Brien’s second season as coach on higher note than 2012. The Lions lost their first two games of the season last year, but ultimately finished 8-4. O’Brien hasn’t forgotten about those four losses, as he always manages to highlight them when asked about his strong first year. It will be interesting to watch how he coaches this game — whether he attacks some situations more conservatively than usual as he attempts to secure that first victory. Will he go for it on Penn State’s initial fourth down situation at midfield or closer? 
  • Penn State and Syracuse will play MetLife Stadium’s first competitive football game of the season. The last will be Super Bowl XLVIII. 


Notable position battles

OT Adam Gress vs. Garry Gilliam 

Saf. Malcolm Willis vs. Ryan Keiser 

Neither starter has been revealed, but I think O’Brien will go with experience and select Gress and Willis. Gress played significantly last season on the offensive line and Willis started. Keiser is one of Penn State’s newest scholarship players, so he must have impressed the coaching staff in the offseason.


Notable Injuries


RB Zach Zwinak, who has been nursing a wrist injury since the Blue-White game, should start.

LB Ben Kline should be good to go after being limited with a shoulder injury for most of the preseason. He’ll be the Lions’ fourth linebacker, where they don’t have much depth. 

T Adam Gress (knee) will play against the Orange


DL Brad Bars 

DB Kasey Gaines

TE Brent Wilkerson 

WR DaeSean Hamilton 



Can RB Zach Zwinak continue to run through defenders and gain prolific ground yardage as he did last season? 

Can G John Urschel and the rest of the offensive line protect Christian Hackenberg from a beating in his first college game? 

Can K Sam Ficken make field goals in pressure situations? 

How impactful can the Lions’ deep set of tight ends be? (Will Adam Breneman make an appearance?) 

How will the players respond to what is slated to be a hot day in East Rutherford? 

Can the starting linebackers stay healthy? 

Will Hackenberg swallow the pressure and put up numbers against a formidable opponent — not a cupcake as many schools are playing this week — in his first college contest? 


Projected Offensive Player of the Game: Allen Robinson 

The wideout finds a way to elude Syracuse’s intense coverage and gets open for a couple of touchdown passes courtesy of Christian Hackenberg. Penn State opponents go back to the drawing board to figure how they can take Robinson off the grid 

Projected Defensive Player of the Game: Adrian Amos

One play, he’s in the Orange’s backfield. The next, he’s back at safety. He’ll have chances to force fumbles, make picks, and sack the quarterback. Amos will come through on some of those chances.  


Predicted score

Penn State 27 Syracuse 13