Penn State is entering uncharted territory heading into 2013. The Nittany Lions fought admirably to an 8-4 record in 2012 while playing under the shadow of NCAA sanctions and the biggest scandal in intercollegiate athletics history, but those sanctions will only get heavier. Can Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions continue to punch above their weight, or will they fall back to earth? Let's take a look at the schedule and see how things will play out.
2013 Penn State schedule
Projections from Football Outsiders' 2013 college football almanac.
Penn State has a maneuverable non-conference schedule, but games against Syracuse and Central Florida could result in losses if the Nittany Lions aren't prepared to play. The team got off to an 0-2 start to last year, but considering how different the off-the-field circumstances are from one year ago, a repeat performance does not seem likely.
The Nittany Lions' season will boil down to how they play against Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. They get to face Michigan and Nebraska in Happy Valley, but road trips to Columbus and Madison don't frequently end with happy returns. Fortunately for Penn State, their back-to-back games against Nebraska and at Wisconsin are at the end of the season, and are also the only back-to-back games against teams expected to be competitive nationally. With no chance of making the Big Ten title game, there's little worry about Penn State overlooking either the Huskers or the Badgers.
While circumstances can and do change quickly, it looks like Penn State has a shot to repeat their 8-4 performance from 2012. The weight of NCAA sanctions could fall heavier this year, but based on Bill O'Brien's first season in charge, the program looks like it won't go down without a fight.