Sep 14, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Zach Zwinak (28) runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during the third quarter against the Central Florida Knights at Beaver Stadium. Central Florida defeated Penn State 34-31. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren- USA TODAY Sports

Penn State vs. UCF Prediction Roundtable

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It’s finally here, the start of the 2014 college football season. The Penn State Nittany Lions are set to begin their season in the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland against the UCF Knights. Last season, the Knights rolled into Beaver Stadium and pulled off an upset that surprised many of us here on the VBR staff.

Below, check out our first edition of the 2014 prediction roundtable for the Nittany Lions’ battle against the Knights.

Lead Editor Barry Leonard Jr.

This game is the perfect example of a toss-up. The Knights are coming off a successful 2013 season and return a lot of experience, despite the loss of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back storm Johnson. Penn State also has an experienced team, but has depth issues at offensive line and linebacker.

The fact that this game is being played in Ireland means a different travel schedule and some unknown elements such as weather and unfamiliarity with the venue. I think that having this game in Ireland will be an equalizer for both teams, resulting in an extremely tight game.

Although there are some pretty big question marks with the Nittany Lions, I do feel that quarterback Christian Hackenberg, along with running backs Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak, will be successful. Look for this one to start out slow and rather ugly, especially considering the forecast of rain.

Don’t be surprised to see a game somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-7 at halftime, with the Nittany Lions pulling out the 21-17 victory in the end.

Staff Writer Eric Sion

UCF is coming off of a historic season in which they went 12-1 and won the Fiesta Bowl. And even though Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson are gone doesn’t mean this is an automatic win for Penn State. UCF brings back a solid running back in William Stanback and a fantastic group of wide receivers with Rannell Hall, Breshad Perriman and J.J. Worton. Also, the Knights return nine starters from a solid defense. Like last year’s meeting in Happy Valley, I think this will be another close game. UCF has a bunch of guys from last year’s team who know how to win and Penn State has a young team with a brand new coaching staff. That difference of experience could play a big role. I believe that UCF will once again edge out the Nittany Lions, this time by a score of 27-24.

Staff Writer Corey Hunter
Penn State begins the 2014 season on the Irish isles against one of 2013’s surprise teams – UCF Knights. The Knights lost some firepower on offense (Blake Bortles and Storm Johnson), but they still have plenty of weapons remaining. Offensively, the Nittany Lions need to find a way to navigate a Knights defense that returns many players from last years 12-1 Fiesta Bowl-winning squad.

Look for the Nittany Lions to show off some of the speed they have been hoarding this summer – players like Lewis, Hamilton, and Thompkins at the wide receiver position and Bill Belton at the running back spot. I like Penn State to try multiple vertical routes to hit the proverbial “home run”.

Penn State’s depth on the offensive line and at linebacker will be an interesting subplot to keep an eye on.

In the end, Penn State gets a hard-fought win with a Sam Ficken last minute FG, 27-24. There will be plenty to work on for the young Nittany Lions, but as Coach Franklin wanted it, it will be a business trip – a business trip with a happy ending!

Staff Writer Ryan Lance

The season is finally here which means we finally get to see Coach Franklin and the Nittany Lions in action. It’s been a long seven months since Franklin and Co. have taken over and I think it’s safe to say we are all excited to finally see the product on the field. There are a few keys to this game and I think they begin with how well Penn State’s offensive line can gel and play together. We’ll also get to see who will step up at wide receiver after losing Allen Robinson to the NFL earlier this year and we’ll get to see a revamped defense that at times was disappointing a season ago.

This won’t be your typical opening week game as both teams had to travel out of country and across the Atlantic Ocean to kick the season off. Because of this, I think both teams may start out slow because of time changes and possible lingering jet lag. UCF, who will be looking to find their own identity after the loss of Blake Bortles, Storm Johnson and Sean Maag, will have their own growing pains to iron out in the season opener.
When its all said and done, I think the experience of Hackenberg, a new defensive coordinator, and a renewed energy across the program will help Penn State in their first battle of the season. This game should be tight throughout but in the end I see the Nittany Lions pulling it out 27-21.
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