The San Diego State Aztecs will travel to Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania, in week 4, to play the Penn State Nittany Lions. The visit will be historic, as it marks the first meeting between the two teams in each school's history.
The Aztecs have, however, gained some familiarity with playing school's from the Big Ten over the past four seasons. In 2011 San Diego State made the trip to Ann Arbor to play the Michigan Wolverines, and in 2013 they faced off against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. The Aztecs lost both games, and are looking to turn their fortune against the Big Ten this year.
San Diego State will face a Penn State squad that is looking to bounce back from a 7-6, 2-6 year in 2014. Despite the mediocre regular season, and lackluster conference record, Penn State was able to score a Bowl bid. They defeated Boston College in a 31-30 overtime thriller to win the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Penn State is looking for some improvement on the offensive side of the ball. They have high hopes for junior quarterback, and former Rivals five-star recruit, Christian Hackenberg. After a less than impressive 2014 season, Hackenberg ended the year on a high note in the Pinstripe Bowl. Hackenberg went 34-50, threw for 371 yards, and had a 156.7 passer rating in the game, showing he has the possibility to live up to his potential. However, the main question mark on the Nittany Lions offense, is Hackenberg's protection. The offensive line is cluttered with inexperience, injured veterans, incoming freshman, and some converted defenders. Penn State has employed a new line coach and can use all the help they can get if they'd like to improve from last year.
Where Penn State does excel, is their defense. In 2014 the Nittany Lions ranked second in the nation in yards allowed per game on defense. The departures of C.J. Olaniyan and Deion Barnes may slightly weaken their defensive line, but senior Anthony Zettel is returning after turning in 8 sacks in 2014 alone. In the secondary, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is taking a gamble by moving top defensive back Jordan Lucas to safety, and putting the corners in the hands of sophomores Grant Hartley, Christian Campbell, and redshirt freshman Daquan Worley. The young cast, however, will be supported by returning senior Trevor Williams.
The Aztecs will have a real test on September 26th when these two teams meet. With SDSU still facing major question marks at the QB position, the offense could have a rough time facing a dominant defense that is returning many familiar faces. If Penn State is unable to pick their struggling offense up from last season, than we may have a defensive battle on our hands.
Prediction: Penn State wins 31-17