Penn State (0-0) vs. Syracuse (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 3:30 p.m. (et).
FACTS & STATS: Site: MetLife Stadium (82,566) -- East Rutherford, New Jersey . Television: ABC/ESPN 2. Home Record: PSU 0-0, Syracuse 0-0. Away Record: PSU 0-0, Syracuse 0-0. Neutral Record: PSU 0-0, Syracuse 0-0. Conference Record: PSU 0-0, Syracuse 0-0. Series Record: Penn State leads, 42-23-5.
GAME NOTES: A new regime in Syracuse football begins this weekend as Scott Shafer makes his head coaching debut in a battle against the Penn State Nittany Lions at MetLife Stadium in the second New York College Classic.
Shafer, who spent the last five years as the defensive coordinator for the Orange, was named the 29th head coach in program history after Doug Marrone moved on to take over the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Shafer assumes control of a squad that opened the 2012 campaign just 1-3, but eventually turned it around to post a 7-5 regular-season mark and a 4-2 record versus the rest of the Big East Conference.
Thanks to three straight wins and five over the final six games of the schedule, Syracuse was invited to face West Virginia in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and bowled over the Mountaineers in a 38-14 decisions.
As for the Nittany Lions, they are in their second year under Bill O'Brien after he was named the full-time successor to legendary coach Joe Paterno. O'Brien, who was named the Big Ten's Dave McClain Coach of the Year (media) and Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year (coaches), was tasked with keeping a program together that was limited in scholarships and banned from the postseason due to the ramifications of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
After losing the first two games of 2012 to Ohio University and Virginia, the Lions put together a healthy five-game win streak and won six of seven before being taken out by Nebraska on the road. PSU then crushed Indiana (45-22) and slipped by a Wisconsin team in overtime (24-21) that a week later would throttle Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game (70-31).
Overall, the Nittany Lions posted a record of 8-4 and were 6-2 in conference play under very difficult circumstances.
In a relationship that dates back to 1922, the Nittany Lions own a 42-23-5 advantage in the all-time series versus Syracuse. The most recent matchup took place in 2009, with PSU putting up a 28-7 win at home, the squad's fourth straight victory in the series.
Between the two programs there are a total of 1,421 victories, with PSU putting up 723 of those heading into this opener.
As of Monday, the Lions still were not completely sure how they would handle the quarterback position. Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg were both listed as starting options on the depth chart. Neither one has any actual game experience with PSU, so it is just another example of how the team will again be tested in 2013.
Some good news has running back Zach Zwinak returning for action after he gained an even 1,000 yards and scored six touchdowns on 203 carries for the squad last year. Zwinak averaged almost five yards per attempt, but now the yards might be tougher to come by given how much defenses will key on him.
Another positive is the return of Allen Robinson at wide receiver after he reeled in 77 balls for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago, all of which were easily the top marks for the Nittany Lions.
Deion Barnes leads the attack on the defensive side of the ball once more, having produced a team-best six sacks and 10 tackles for loss on a mere 26 total stops in 2012. Barnes was also responsible for three forced fumbles.
A couple of shaky areas for the unit are at outside linebacker and cornerback where there is very little experience, which means the squad will have to be patient with that development.
Just like Penn State, the Orange also have to find a new starting quarterback following the departure of signal-caller Ryan Nassib who set eight SU single- season records, including pass attempts (471), completions (294), passing yards (3,749) and TD passes (26).
Vying for the job are Terrel Hunt and Drew Allen, the former having appeared in just one game on special teams in 2012, and the latter a transfer from Oklahoma who saw very limited time under center with the Sooners. Jarrod West gives the Orange their best option down the field after stringing together 14 straight games with at least one reception and having tallied 43 catches for 588 yards and a couple of scores overall.
The running backs are slightly more established with Prince-Tyson Gulley who scored nine rushing TDs in 2012 and 11 overall, while Jerome Smith generated 1,171 rushing yards to rank fifth on the school's single-season rushing list.
The defense for the Orange has six returning starters to lean on, the group combining for 136 career starts, of which more than half (72) came last season. Giving the group the most flexibility is Marquis Spruill who has played all three linebacker spots during his career and is tied for the most starts at linebacker (36) in the nation with Derrell Johnson of East Carolina.
Spruill is the program's active leader with 177 tackles, including 26.5 for loss, the latter tying him for 10th on the school's all-time list.
Now a member of the ACC, Syracuse has a host of new rivalries set to start in 2013, so it is important for the squad to get off on the right foot this weekend. Unfortunately, there are simply too many unanswered questions all over the roster for the Orange, giving PSU a slight advantage.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Penn State 30, Syracuse 21
08/28 10:40:09 ET