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What you need to know about Penn State before Ohio State plays them

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Is this the year they finally get their offense together?

NCAA Football: Penn State Spring Game Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State football season will be here before you know it, and even if you’ve only been paying semi-close attention this offseason, you’re probably aware of the major storylines with the program. This is going to be an exceptionally young, but talented and athletic team. There’s a lack of proven production at wideout, running back, and defensive back. They return the best QB in the conference, and should at least compete for a Big Ten title.

But you may not know a lot about the specific teams on Ohio State’s schedule. We’ll get into a lot more detail before the actual games, but you may want a primer so you can sound smart at the bar, or at the barbecue, or in the grocery store checkout line.

So take a look at Ohio State’s opponents this year. Next up, Ohio State’s “other” rival (yes, this is a rivalry game, don’t @ me Penn State Twitter), Penn State

So, what was the deal with Penn State last year?

Is there one Youtube clip that sums up the Penn State offense from last year? Why yes, I do believe there is.

PENN STATE GAVE UP A SACK ON A TWO MAN RUSH. TO TEMPLE. TEMPLE!

The Nittany Lions did end up finishing with a 9-4 record, which is impressive given they were still working their way out of roster depth issues, but they beat exactly one team with a pulse (San Diego State), got destroyed by Ohio State and Michigan State, turned highly touted Christian Hackenburg into a quivering heap, and satisfied exactly zero Penn State fans.

Now, Hackenburg is gone. And so are both coordinators, including one (former DC Bob Shoop) who was very good at his job. The offensive line coach is gone too, and so are most of the pieces of a truly amazing pass rush last season. So this year should be a pretty interesting one.

What do the Nittany Lions have coming back on offense?

Taking over under center will be redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley. McSorely is a little small for a high level FBS QB, and doesn’t have a ton of experience. But he looked good at the end of the TaxSlayer Bowl, and apparently had a nice spring game. He may not have the raw star power or potential that Hackenburg had, but given the rest of the offense, he probably doesn’t need it.

McSorely just needs to hand the dang ball off to perhaps the best running back in the Big Ten, Saquon Barkley. Barkley torched Ohio State last season, en route to rushing for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman. With stud freshman Miles Sanders behind him, if Penn State’s offensive line is just average, moving the ball, and putting McSorley in positions to be successful should not be a problem.

In terms of pure production, Michigan has the best wideouts in the Big Ten. In terms of pure, adulterated potential, it’s probably Ohio State. But Penn State has a nice mix of both, paced by Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton. It just comes down to consistent offensive line play, something Penn State hasn’t had in several seasons. We’ll see if former Minnesota line coach Matt Limegrover can turn a unit that is heavy on experience, but light on proven production, into winners.

What about Penn State’s defense?

The reason Penn State never truly fell in the tank, even with the worst of the sanctions, was their defense. Last year, it was especially nasty, especially the pass rush. But Bob Shoop is gone, along with Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson, and Anthony Zettel. They’re certainly not lacking for talent there, but expecting a repeat of last year’s defensive line production seems unreasonable.

But Penn State brings almost everybody else back. Sack machine Brandon Bell at linebacker returns, along with most of the secondary, and plenty other exciting options at the other linebacker spots, like Jason Cabinda and Manny Bowen. After the last several years, even with new coordinators, Penn State’s defense probably deserves some benefit of the doubt. Will they be as good as last year? That remains to be seen, but the offense may improve enough to absorb some defensive regression.

What’s the Ohio State-Penn State series history like?

The all-time series is 17-13, in favor of Ohio State, but recent history has been even more lopsided in the favor of the Buckeyes. Ohio State has won the last four games in this series, and eight of the last ten, including last year’s 38-10 romp in Columbus. Blowouts, like we saw in 2015 and 2013, are relatively rare though.

Is Penn State going to be any good this year?

It won’t be hard to find somebody on the internet who thinks Penn State might suck in 2016. They have to travel to play a good Pitt team before Big Ten play (not to mention a rematch with Temple), they play in the difficult Big Ten division, they’re breaking in a new, young, non-blue chip QB, and James Franklin’s in-game coaching decisions — especially when it comes to clock management — do little to inspire confidence. All of that makes sense.

But I think I’ve talked myself into a bit of a bounce back year for the Nittany Lions. The actual Big Ten schedule is pretty forgivable, with Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State all at home, (a place where Penn State typically performs pretty well). Their returning skill position talent is some of the very best in the Big Ten. Their secondary should be good. If they get average offensive line play and new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead is successful introducing some tempo principles into this scheme, you can also talk yourself into an improved squad. Maybe they finish 3rd in the Big Ten East. I think, given the two scenarios, I personally lean a little more towards the later.

How worried should Ohio State fans be about this game?

This is the non-Oklahoma/Michigan/Michigan State game that scares me the most, personally. Happy Valley at night is a difficult place to play for even experienced squads, and Ohio State won’t be that. They’ll also be coming off a potentially difficult road game at Wisconsin, and Penn State’s skill guys may be the only ones outside of Michigan and Oklahoma to be athletic enough to truly give Ohio State problems.

Ohio State’s pass rush could have a field day, and the Buckeyes probably will still go into this game as favorites, but I think it ends up being one of the harder ones on the schedule.