There's no soft launch of the 2022 college football season for Penn State or Purdue. The two Big Ten programs will kick things off Thursday night in a conference clash to open the season in a battle of two teams coming off different seasons in 2021.
Purdue was one of the Big Ten's pleasant surprises. After going 6-12 during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Boilermakers improved to 9-4 last season and went 6-3 in the Big Ten, finishing in a tie with Minnesota and Wisconsin for second in the Big Ten West.
Penn State was not as successful, going 7-6 (and only 4-5 in conference play) after a 4-5 performance in 2020, with four losses against ranked teams and an upset loss to Illinois in nine overtimes. It was enough to get to a bowl game, but simply reaching the postseason is never the goal in State College, Pennsylvania. Not for a program that won the Big Ten East in 2019 when it went 11-2.
Thursday night's meeting will be the first between these schools since 2019 when Penn State beat Purdue 35-7 at Beaver Stadium. Penn State has dominated the series, winning 15 of the 19 meetings.
Purdue vs. Penn State: Need to know
Purdue has plenty to replace, but still has Aidan O'Connell: Part of the reason Purdue was so successful in 2021 was receiver David Bell (93 receptions., 1,286 yards, six touchdowns) and defensive end George Karlaftis (41 tackles, 11.5 TFL, five sacks, three fumbles forced). Both will play their football on Sunday this season, and while neither will be easy to replace, the Boilermakers take some solace in getting Aidan O'Connell back. O'Connell began 2021 in a battle for the starting QB job, but once he got hold of it, he refused to let go. O'Connell finished the season with 3,708 yards passing and 28 touchdowns. He enters 2022 as the unquestioned starter, and some wonder if he might be the next-best QB in the league behind Ohio State's C.J. Stroud.
Consistency at offensive coordinator for Sean Clifford: Maybe that doesn't seem like a big deal, but it is. For example, nobody expected much from Northwestern's Ryan Hilinski last weekend, but he was in the same situation as Clifford entering 2022. Hilinski threw for 314 yards to help lead the Wildcats to an upset win over Nebraska. Familiarity is huge for a QB, and Clifford has it with his playbook and play-caller for the first time in his college career. That, combined with his experience, could lead to his most prolific season at Penn State.
Watch out for Penn State freshman Nick Singleton: The first-year player could be as big a boost to Clifford and the Penn State offense as anyone else. Penn State has struggled to run the ball effectively since the days of Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders, and Singleton is the most talented back they've had since Barkley. That's not to say he is Barkley or he'll have an immediate impact, but he does give Penn State's offense the kind of game-breaking talent it has lacked at running back. He's a player to keep an eye out for on Thursday night -- and all season long.
How to watch Purdue vs. Penn State live
Date: Thursday, September 1 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Ross-Ade Stadium -- West Lafayette, Indiana
TV: Fox | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Purdue vs. Penn State prediction, picks
I've painted myself into a bit of a corner here. I spent the offseason talking about Penn State being the Big Ten's most underrated program based on the last couple of seasons, while simultaneously saying that Purdue was overrated after overperforming last season. Well, it looks like my two opinions will clash head-on Thursday night, and I see no reason to back down from them yet. I have legitimate concerns about Purdue's ability to quickly replace the key parts it lost from last year's team, and Penn State should have the clear talent advantage. There's a reason the Nittany Lions are favored on the road coming off a mediocre season. Don't overthink it. Prediction: Penn State -3.5
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