On Saturday, the game between No. 12 Wisconsin and No. 19 Penn State could present a viewing dilemma for college football fans deciding which games to watch in a busy Week 1 schedule. On one hand, everyone loves a Big Ten Conference matchup between top-20 teams. These are two of the better programs in the Big Ten and both have conference title aspirations. While there are no must-win games in the first week of a season, this one certainly has that feel to it.
But are we sure we want these kinds of games on the first weekend? Perhaps it would be better to play games of this caliber later in the season when both teams have found themselves. That said, I’m still going to watch, and I’m still thrilled to start my Saturday with this one, so I’ll get over it.
Speaking of which, Wisconsin would probably like to get over its four-game losing streak to the Nittany Lions. Wisconsin hasn’t beaten Penn State since a 45-7 win in 2011. That game was so long ago that Bret Bielema — now at Illinois — was coaching at Wisconsin, and his quarterback was Russell Wilson. Oh, and Penn State was coached by Joe Paterno. The last meeting was a 22-10 win for Penn State at Beaver Stadium in 2018, and the Nittany Lions hold the slight edge in the all-time series at 10-9.
Penn State vs. Wisconsin: Need to know
Bouncing back: Last season was Penn State’s worst since 2004. The Nittany Lions lost their first five games of the 2020 season before finishing with four straight wins. The 4-5 record was the first time Penn State finished below .500 since going 4-7 in 2004. That was at the back end of a rough stretch for Penn State when it had four losing seasons in five years. The good news? The Lions went 11-1 in 2005 and reached the Orange Bowl, finishing the season ranked No. 3. I’m sure Nittany Lions fans would love to be in the top four again this year.
Penn State has a new offensive coordinator … again. Mike Yurcich takes over for Kirk Ciarrocca, who came to Penn State last year from Minnesota hoping to reinvigorate the offense. It didn’t work out that way as Penn State finished 54th in the country at 29.8 points per game. Now Yurcich becomes Penn State’s second OC in as many years. With stops at Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Texas, Yurcich hopes to finally put a jolt in the Nittany Lions attack.
Wisconsin has won 25 straight home openers: It’s a streak that’s tied with Oklahoma State for the second-longest in the country, behind Florida’s 31-game streak. Of course, Penn State is better than most home-opener opponents. In fact, Wisconsin’s last home-opening lost came in 1995 against another ranked team: No. 14 Colorado. The final score of that game was 43-7.
Graham Mertz hopes to rebound from a poor finish: The Badgers QB lit the world on fire in his first collegiate start, completing 20 of 21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns in a 45-7 win against Illinois to start 2020. The following week at Michigan, he threw for 127 yards and two touchdowns. But then things got a bit more difficult as Mertz threw only two touchdowns in his final five games opposite five interceptions. He’s still a talented player, though, and Wisconsin believes a regular offseason of preparation will have him looking more like the player we saw early in 2020.
How to watch Penn State vs. Wisconsin live
Date: Saturday, September 4 | Time: 12 p.m. ET
Location: Camp Randall Stadium — Madison, Wisconsin
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Penn State vs. Wisconsin prediction, picks
It is not easy to get a great read on this game, and I believe the oddsmakers have this one lined up just about right. I lean towards Wisconsin simply because home teams should have a significant advantage early in the season as visitors get acclimated to playing in front of fans again. Camp Randall is already a raucous atmosphere, and it could take Penn State a little more time to adjust in the first game back. Prediction: Wisconsin (-5.5)
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