Season opener could play big role in Penn St., Purdue plans

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Penn State (0-0) at Purdue (0-0), 8 p.m. ET (Fox)

Line: Penn State by 3½, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: Penn State leads 15-3-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

After losing their first five games in 2020 and six of their last eight in 2021, the Nittany Lions need to win more consistently this season. An opening-night victory on the road against a Big Ten West contender could help Penn State challenge East favorites Ohio State and Michigan. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm is trying to build off last year’s surprising improvement and another prime-time win over a big-name opponent would send quite a message in the wide-open West.

KEY MATCHUP

Penn State offensive line vs. Purdue defensive line. When the Nittany Lions struggled last season, it was largely because of a rushing game that generated 3.2 yards per carry. Leading rusher Keyvone Lee returns but the Nittany Lions have three new starters in front of him. Purdue has perhaps its deepest defensive line rotations in recent years but must replace playmaker George Karlaftis, a first-round draft pick for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Penn State: QB Sean Clifford. The 24-year-old begins his sixth college season — fourth as the starter — still chasing a Big Ten title. His offseason advocacy to give college athletes more benefits and starting a new company raised his profile. But Clifford routinely said he focused mostly on football. The opener will provide a glimpse of whether he can outperform last season, his statistical best.

Purdue: WRs Broc Thompson and TJ Sheffield. Losing David Bell to the NFL and Milton Wright because of academics thinned the receiving corps. The Boilermakers now need their most experienced players to provide sixth-year quarterback Aidan O’Connell with consistent options.

FACTS & FIGURES

Penn State has won nine straight in the series, dating to 2004. The Nittany Lions and Boilermakers have played twice since 2014. … Purdue is playing its first “Blackout” game since it surprised then-No. 2 Ohio State 49-20 in 2018. … Penn State has won five of its last six season openers, with the lone loss coming two years ago in overtime at Indiana. … O’Connell helped the Boilermakers finish fifth nationally in yards passing per game (355.4). … Nittany Lions coach James Franklin starts this season nine wins short of the 100 mark. … The Boilermakers expect two Iowa transfers, Tyrone Tracy and Charlie Jones, to play key roles in their passing game. … Purdue will wear a helmet decal to honor Len Dawson, the former Boilermakers star quarterback who died last week at age 87.

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