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Penn State Football: The Blessing That is Rutgers

by on November 28, 2019 7:30 PM

Speaking of turkeys: Penn State is a 40-point favorite against Rutgers on Saturday.

The Nittany Lions will, no doubt, beat the stuffing out of the Scarlet Knights.

The State University of New Jersey is the leftover that keeps giving. The Scarlet Knights are 2-9 this season, with wins over Liberty and UMass, and have scored just 105 points in their last 10 games.

Rutgers last defeated Penn State in 1988.

And first defeated Penn State in 1918. That’s it. Penn State is 27-2 vs. its next-door neighbor.

Rutgers is in an extended tailspin since Greg Schiano left Piscataway, and not just against Penn State.

When the Nittany Lions win on Senior Day in Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Rutgers will have extended its conference losing streak to 21 games and will end its sixth season in the Big Ten with a cumulative record of 7-45 against league opponents.

So, when Rutgers’ administrators say they can’t pay Schiano enough to take the head coaching job — Nunzio Campanile was promoted to interim head coach after Chris Ash was fired following a 1-3 start and a 52-0 loss at Michigan — they’re not kidding.

The Scarlet Knights are a living, barely breathing example of what some people thought would happen to Penn State since the scandal.

But bad as its football is, Rutgers isn't the only blessing among its brethren in the Big Ten East division.

The conference went from its ill-fated and short-lived (2011-13) Legends and Leaders concept to its current alignment in 2014. That coincided with the arrival of James Franklin at PSU and the addition of Rutgers and Maryland to the conference.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether Franklin is appreciated for his 54-23 record since then. Hey, pilgrim — where’s the gratitude for the arrival of Rutgers and Maryland?

Over the past same six seasons, Penn State has feasted on Rutgers and Maryland. And let’s include Indiana in there, too, just so they get their just desserts.


Heading into Saturday’s game, the Nittany Lions have taken that trio to dinner. And gone back for seconds and thirds. Since 2014, Penn State is 16-1 against those three division non-rivals: Rutgers, Maryland and Indiana.

They’re not alone. The Good, Great and Elite of the Big Ten East have made mincemeat of the Knights-Terps-Hoosiers troika. From 2016 to 19, here’s how Larry, Curly and Moe have done against Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State:

Rutgers — 1-22, with a 26-24 win over Michigan 2014.

Indiana — 1-23, with a 42-21 win over Michigan State in 2016.

Maryland — 3-20, with a 20-19 win over Penn State and a 23-16 win over Michigan in 2014, and a 28-17 win over Michigan State in 2016.

That’s 5 wins and 65 losses. A losing percentage of .929. One win every 13 games. Which means you can count on of The Little Three beating one of The Big Four roughly once a year.

Just not this Saturday in Beaver Stadium.

Maryland has been a barometer of the progress that Franklin has made at Penn State. After that 20-19 loss at home in 2014 against the Terrapins, the Nittany Lions won 31-30 in Baltimore. Since then, CJF and PSU have pounded his former employer by a combined 201-20.

Rutgers hasn’t fared much better in the past three seasons against Penn State, losing by a combined 104-13.


So, why is Rutgers playing football in the Big Ten, anyway?

Money, of course. When the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers it opened up the TV markets of metropolitan New York and the Washington, D.C. (In 2011, the year before the two were invited, New York City had more college football fans than any other metropolitan area in the country, according to the New York Times. Atlanta was No. 2.)

That meant more eyeballs for the Big Ten Network. And more money for its members. Lots more.

In 2018, Penn State and 11 other members of the Big Ten each got a check for $51 million from the conference. (Rutgers and Maryland don’t get a full share until 2020-21.) That’s a big jump from the $36 million check that was issued in 2017, the increase due to new TV deals with Fox and ESPN.

The Big Ten Network went on air in 2007. Here’s a look at the quantum leap in school payouts from the conference since 2008: 

2018 — $51 million

2017 — $36 million

2015 — $32.4 million

2013 — $25.7 million

2012 — $24.6 million

2011 — $22.8 million

2008 — $18.8 million


Franklin...James, not Ben...gets the math.

When I asked him this week what Maryland and Rutgers bring to the table from a football standpoint, he offered the following:

"Obviously, if you’re talking from a business perspective,” he said, “you talk about the population of the Big Ten, the number of graduates from the Big Ten, you talk about TVs, obviously, in the Maryland-D.C. area, you talk about New Jersey, New York. It’s obviously opened that up.”

But I wondered about the gridiron, not the ratings.

So I tried again, specifically asking, “On the field, how have they impacted the conference?”

Recruiting, in a word, is what Franklin replied:

“I’d make the argument is that in some ways they have made things a little bit more challenging here,” he said, “because in the past, we’ve had competition in the Maryland-D.C. area or competition in the New Jersey area for recruiting or whatever it may be. And one of the things that we could say is, ‘Well, you're going to have a chance to come play in the Big Ten.’ We don't have that conversation as much. So that’s changed the dynamics of it a little bit. There are more Big Ten options now in our specific footprint.

"There’s guys that are playing at Maryland and that are playing at Rutgers that…I’m not sure if without them being in the Big Ten if they would have been there. That means guys that we’re competing against that maybe we wouldn’t have competed against, and maybe one or two of those guys is at Penn State.

"When you say that to people, they may say, ‘What's he talking about? Well, Saquon Barkley, when I got the job, was committed to one of those schools (Rutgers). Maryland is going to put a bunch of guys that end up going to the NFL one day; Rutgers is going to put a bunch of guys that end up going to the NFL one day. And if one or two of those guys was on another team in the Big Ten or specifically at Penn State, that helps (Penn State). So, you’re kind of spreading out the talent in this region over more schools.

"It’s kind of like — going back to something that I’m familiar with, which is the PSAC, the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (in) Division II. You look at some of the teams that win the national championship (in Division II), they may only have one in the state, so all the Division II players go to that one school and they’re able to thrive. Where you’ve got the PSAC and there’s all these schools and the talent is divided among them all.

“That’s one of the things that probably jumps out to me: They’ve got some guys on their team that the’'ve done a good job of recruiting and evaluating that may have been in the old model of the Big Ten in one of our programs.”

Franklin offered two examples of players who will be on Rutgers’ roster this Saturday who Penn State recruited:

“Guys that we’re impressed with on the offensive line, Kamaal Seymour, offensive lineman No. 54, young man out of Brooklyn, N.Y., that we recruited, I guess, five years ago,” Franklin said. “I remember sitting in a White Castle, I think, in the Bronx with Coach (Sean) Spencer and trying to recruit Kamaal. He's done a really nice job. I'm very happy for him.

“... and there's then Bo Melton, a young man that we recruited as well from New Jersey. He’s doing a nice job for them.”

Melton is a junior wide receiver from Mays Landing, N.J. He has 27 receptions for 375 yards and two touchdowns in 2019. (By comparison, this season Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson has 23 catches for 418 yards and three TDs.)


The flip side is that since the conversion from Leaders and Legends — or was Legends and Leaders — to East and West, Penn State has had its own problems with the other tough guys in the division. Against Ohio State (1-5), Michigan (2-4) and Michigan State (2-4), the Nittany Lions are a combined 5-13.

This year, that narrative started to flip, as Penn State beat both Michigan and Michigan State, and came within 11 points of the Buckeyes. They also were 2-1 against that trio in 2016.

Since 2016, though, Penn State is a much more respectable 5-7, with five of those losses by a combined 20 points. However, in four of those seven losses, Penn State was the higher-ranked team entering the game.

The next step for the Nittany Lions is not only beat the bottom three, but also defeat The Other Big Three in the same season. The last time that happened? In 2008. Followed by a 2-1 mark in 2009, for a two-year record of 5-1.

By no coincidence, those were back-to-back 11-win seasons for Penn State. If things break right, this could be Franklin’s third 11-win season in four seasons.

Talk about feasts.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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