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Must-win and trap games of 2017: Penn State Nittany Lions

The 2017 season is still several months away. But we never stop looking forward here at the Big Ten blog.

It may be ridiculously early, but we’re examining what will be the must-win game and the potential trap game for each league team this fall. Up next: the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Must-win game: Sept. 9 vs. Pittsburgh. Last year’s renewal of a great college football rivalry served as one of the few low points during a great season in Happy Valley. The Panthers beat Penn State 42-39 after quarterback Trace McSorley threw an interception at the edge of field goal range of the Nittany Lions’ final drive of the game. The Week 2 rematch in 2017 provides McSorley and company their first real chance to keep momentum rolling (They open the season against Akron) after a strong finish this past fall. With a conference title under his belt, James Franklin’s next box to check on the way to returning Penn State to the success its huge fan base expects will be beating its top in-state rival.

Trap game: Oct. 7 at Northwestern. Franklin got into the habit of repeating his next opponent’s name like a Hare Krishna to keep his team focused during the second half of the conference championship run in 2016. Don’t be surprised if he has a one-word vocabulary during the first week of October. Penn State’s hopes of a Big Ten repeat rest in late October with back-to-back games against Michigan and at Ohio State. They’ll have a bye week after facing the Wildcats to prepare, but keeping focused will still be a challenge. Northwestern in recent years has been a team that can beat anyone at its best and lose to FCS programs at its worst. If Penn State catches the Wildcats on a good day, it will be in a battle that can’t be overlooked.