Penn State is now less than a week from opening the 2014 season in the Croke Park Classic against the UCF Knights. Despite a volcano in Iceland threatening air travel to Ireland, the game is currently still scheduled to take place. The Nittany Lions open as a one-point favorite according to Danny Sheridan at DannySheridan.com.
The Nittany Lions, under new head coach James Franklin, will be looking for revenge against the Knights. UCF came into Beaver Stadium last year and pulled out the 34-31 upset in an offensive shoot-out that featured a combined 962 yards. However, the Knights had the services of quarterback Blake Bortles, who is now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL.
As the line suggests, this game could be considered a toss-up. Both teams have experience returning, but have to fill holes at key positions.
The Knights return 16 starters from a year ago and feature a very experienced defense, including linebacker Terrance Plummer, who will be a key defensive leader. UCF does need to find a replacement for Bortles, as well as leading rusher Storm Johnson. Against the Nittany Lions last season, Bortles torched the defense for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown.
Penn State returns Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg to lead the offense. Helping him on offense will be several talented tight ends and a trio of running backs. Last year, Zach Zwinak rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns against the Knights. However, Penn State only returns one starter on the offensive line.
The Croke Park Classic is scheduled to be shown on ESPN2 at 8:30 am ET. on Saturday. Both teams are set to leave on Tuesday to make the trip to Dublin.