By Annie Ross
As Penn State prepares to open the 2014 season tomorrow morning (ESPN2, 8:30 a.m.) with a new coach in a setting that doesn’t exactly say, Nittany Lion Tradition, it is useful to put the game in perspective.
Workers at Dublin’s Croke Park were busy Friday morning putting the final touches and sodding on what is essentially a Gaelic football field.
THE CROWD: A game spokesman said Friday the PSU-UCF crowd is expected to be more than 50,000, with 16,000 fans coming from the U.S. (an estimated 14,500 are PSU fans). Capacity for this game was set at approximately 70,000 fans.
THE SPREAD: Penn State opened as a one-point favorite for the game with the total set at 47, according to Americasline.com. But other sites (such as Bovada) now have installed UCF as a two-point favorite as of Friday.
THE FALL?: Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network believes Penn State is in for a rough season due to the state of an inexperienced offensive line, a challenging Big Ten East schedule (the Lions play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State and must play at Indiana), and the presence of an improved Maryland side in the Big Ten.
“The offensive line is a huge question,” Dienhart told PennLive last week.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if this (PSU) team finishes fourth or fifth in the Big Ten (East) and has a losing record.”– Tom Dienhart.
“It looks like they’re going to struggle up front unless (offensive line coach) Herb Hand is an absolute magician. Same as linebacker, once you get past the starters, the depth there looks shaky.
“How’s that going to affect how you use (quarterback) Christian Hackenberg? Can you really do 5 and 7-step drops with the guy? Can you protect him long enough to throw downfield?”
PSU’s UNSUNG HERO: James Franklin praised senior offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach earlier this week, citing his positive attitude in the face of a serious knee injury (suffered in spring) that will force him to miss all, or most, of the season.
Dieffenbach, who is not eligible for a redshirt season, would have been a starting guard and a steadying presence on an O-line that now only has one returning starter — left tackle Donovan Smith.
“He’s our assistant offensive line coach,” Franklin said of Dieffenbach, a starter since the beginning of the 2012 season.
“Him and Herb Hand work with those guys. Miles is a special kid. From Day 1, when he faced his adversity, how he handled it, he’s so positive, he’s so optimistic, and I actually believe that’s why he’s doing so well, because of how he’s approached it from Day 1.
“So far, so good. Hopefully, he’ll be back here soon. You never know.”