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Penn State Football: Time to Win a Whiteout (Maybe Temple?)

by on May 25, 2015 7:00 AM

Kind of lost among the two weeks, 12 stops and 1,312 miles of the Coaches Caravan was the announcement of Penn State’s one White Out of 2015:

Against Michigan. As voted by the fans.

In the past, the White Out determination was made by a shifting mélange of Paterno consigliere Guido D’Elia, the student leaders of Paternoville/Nittanyville, the PSU sports marketing department and the Power(s) That Be in Lasch.

Not this year.

It’s likely that internal discussions in Lasch centered on both the Sept. 19 night game vs. Rutgers and the home-ender against Michigan on Nov. 21.

You’d think that James Franklin would get final say, if he wanted it, on which game is the 2015 White Out in Beaver Stadium – ostensibly a home field advantage against the visiting team, but a definite advantage with visiting recruits – and how that game-day asset would be deployed.

But when it came down to it, Nittany Nation had the final say. The Penn State plebiscite was announced on May 5, while the caravan was in Lancaster on the tour’s opening night. The next day, in Linthicum, Md., Franklin gave the process his light stamp of approval.

“The biggest thing – I think you see this across the country more and more right now – is allowing the fans to be involved in things,” Franklin said. “Social media creates that opportunity. It allows fans to have a voice and to be a part of some of the decision-making process. It’s about ownership, it’s about having fun with it. It’s about honestly wanting to hear from them and what’s most important to them.

“You probably have a lot of different opinions on this. You have the coach’s opinion, you probably have the administration’s opinion, you probably have marketing’s opinion. You have the ticket opinion. And everyone has kind of a different perspective, a different agenda. You have the fan’s perception. You probably have TV.

“You have all these different opinions,” concluded Franklin. “I think it’s good when you’re going to make any decision that you hear from as many different perspectives as possible, then ultimately come up with the best decision for Penn State.”

By 11:59 p.m. of May 10 that weekend, the balloting was complete. Michigan won. As if there was any doubt. Ultimately, the fans weren’t part of the process. They were the entire process.

FAN ENGAGEMENT

The vote, and the accompanying one to select the official White Out T-shirt, were precursors to Penn State’s recently initiated fan council. Fan engagement is the name of the game in pro and big-time college sports, with the goal of enhancing the in-house stadium experience to combat dwindling attendance caused in part by hefty seat licenses in the stadium and comfy seats on the couch at home, accompanied by HD TVs, Wi-Fi that works, endless beer, warmth and no need for a $600 hotel room.

For Franklin to get his #107 crowd in each and every one of Penn State’s 2015 seven-game home slate, the Nittany Lions not only have to win, they are required to do so in a Beaver Stadium that’s still decidedly #1960. Penn State – late to the experiential party and still operating on a sanctioned budget – is moving double-time under athletic director Sandy Barbour to change that. For her large steps in that direction, let’s give her a 96 and you can dance to it.

But, maybe, Rutgers would’ve been better.

I get why it’s Michigan.

Michigan is a BIG game against Khaki Jim Harbaugh. Senior Day. It’s the Saturday that starts Thanksgiving break, so there’s no better way to get students to stay and fill The Beav. Penn State’s 12th man. Impressing recruits. Against Michigan, which with Ohio State (three games each) comprises over half of Penn State’s 11 all-time Whites. A white hot White Out streak against the Wolverines, having won under the lights in 2010 and in quadruple overtime in 2013, thanks to an inept Brady Hoke and a very, very ept Allen Robinson.

All that happens without a White Out.

Take notice, too: That same day, Nov. 21, Michigan State is at The Horseshoe against Ohio State, in a game that will likely get prime time billing – relegating Penn State-Michigan to a late afternoon kick. A good slot, especially for Beaver Stadium fans likely to freeze their Celsius off, but not the best.

WIN OUT

Still, the people have spoken. And perhaps incorrectly. More than a White Out against Michigan, Penn State needs to win a White Out against anybody. The Nittany Lions, who are 5-6 in such games in Beaver Stadium, have lost three of their last four White Outs and four of their past six. (See the list below.)

What good is a White Out if you lose – last year’s OT loss to Ohio State notwithstanding? A White Out is much more impressive to recruits if accompanied by a victory. Play to and in front of your audience: Penn State recruits many more Jersey Boys than Michigan Men.

Not that the Nittany Lions can’t beat Michigan and Harbaugh and maybe the weather and the emotionality of a Senior Day. But why force it? It’s the downside that gives pause. Say Michigan comes to town and wins vs. the White Out. That only heightens Harbaugh’s quickly-growing legend and any recruiting advantage he may already have.

Better to White the Scarlet and re-establish a winning tradition. That’s Franklin’s overall philosophy and it most likely dovetails with what might be his White Out game selection. We’ll never know, at least this year. James get $4.3 mil a year; let him earn it.

Just as Franklin makes a case for a non-con schedule that is non-confrontational (i.e., pretty easy), a case can be made that the Scarlet Knights should be White Outed. Granted, Penn State’s game against Rutgers will likely be played before 107,000 fans, under the lights in Beaver Stadium and early in the season, White Out or not. Part of that is due to the revenge factor, against a rowdy Jersey fan base that was just rotten to Penn State fans in Piscataway last fall.

The bottom-line remains: Penn State needs to win a Whiteout. This year. For fans, the team, the program, to maintain luster and revitalize the (mistaken) idea of home field advantage.

Penn State does not play well in mid-season White Outs. Of the four White Outs Penn State has ever played after Oct. 12, it has won only one. That would be Oct. 30, 2010, against Michigan. PSU has lost White Outs on Oct. 14, 25 and 27. Better never than late.

And the Lions have never played a late-season White Out – for good reason. There’s always the great possibility of snow, a decided lack of statewide white parkas and hats, a collision with Senior Day, and no Michigan or Ohio State at the end the year. As for the outerwear: I think it would be much easier to outfit a Camo Out in Beaver Stadium on Nov. 21. Much.

Penn State doesn’t need a White Out against Michigan to draw #107, anyway. Both teams could come in with two losses or less, and the contest will be over-run with storylines regardless. Here’s a good one: It could be Christian Hackenberg’s last game in Beaver Stadium and his Penn State-record 36th consecutive game as the starting quarterback. Don’t need no White Out to show up for that one.

Besides, until recently, Penn State’s final home of the season was an attendance behemoth, whether it’s at the start or end of a Thanksgiving break that went three or five days. From 2000-2011, the average attendance for the season-finale in Beaver Stadium was 106,156. The past three seasons, it’s been 97,308. But that number is trending upward. For Penn State’s last home game of 2014, against Michigan State on Nov. 29, the Nittany Lions drew just 98 fans short of 100,000.

BROTHERLY LOVE

Of course, maybe it doesn’t matter whether the White Out is against Rutgers or Michigan. Maybe the bigger trick, the bigger show of Penn State spirit, would come with a White Out at another game altogether.

That’s what longtime State College entrepreneur Mark Tygel thinks – he’s the guy who created the “Shitt On Pitt” buttons and the poster-sized Sports Illustrated poster of Gregg Garrity at the Sugar Bowl.

“Make Temple in the season opener on the road (Sept. 5 at the Linc) a White Out,” Tygel said after stopping me to chat along Allen Street the other day. “Now that would be something.”

Hmmm. Let’s take a vote.

PENN STATE’S WHITE OUT HISTORY

Overall record: 5-6. Last 4 games: 1-3; Last 6 games: 2-4. Against: Notre Dame (1-0), Illinois (1-0), Michigan (2-1), Ohio State (1-2), Alabama (0-1), Iowa (0-1), Purdue (0-1). September: 2-2; October: 3-4.

1. October 9, 2004 – Purdue, loss, 20-13. Student only; first White Out ever. Attendance: 108,183. Game #6; home game #3; succeeding home games: Iowa (Homecoming), Northwestern, Michigan State.

2. October 8, 2005 – Ohio State, win, 17-10. Student only. Attendance: 109,839. Game #6; home game #5; succeeding home games: Purdue, Wisconsin.

3. October 14, 2006 – Michigan, loss, 17-10. Student only; Michigan ranked No. 4. Attendance: 110,007. Game #7; home game #4; succeeding home games: Illinois (H), Temple, Michigan State.

4. September 8, 2007 – Notre Dame, win, 31-10. First full-stadium White Out. Attendance: 100,078. Game #2; home game #2; succeeding home games: Buffalo, Iowa, Wisconsin (H), Ohio State, Purdue.

5. September 27, 2008 – Illinois, win, 38-24. Full-stadium White Out. Attendance: 109,626. Game #5; home game #4; succeeding home games: Michigan (H), Ohio State, Indiana.

6. September 26, 2009 – Iowa, loss, 21-10. Full-stadium White Out. Attendance: 109,316. Game #6; home game #5; succeeding home games: Minnesota, Ohio State, Indiana.

7. October 30, 2010 – Michigan, win, 41-31. Student only. Attendance: 108,539. Game #8; home game #5; succeeding home games: Northwestern, Michigan State.

8. September 10, 2011 – Alabama, loss, 27-11. Full-stadium White Out. Attendance: 107,846. Game #2; home game #2; succeeding home games: Eastern Michigan, Iowa, Purdue (H), Illinois, Nebraska.

9. October 27, 2012 – Ohio State, loss, 35-23. Full-stadium White Out. Attendance: 107,818. Game #8; home game #5; succeeding home games: Indiana, Wisconsin.

10. October 12, 2013 – Michigan, win, 43-40 (4OT). Full-stadium White Out; Homecoming. Attendance: 107,884. Game #6; home game #4; succeeding home games: Illinois, Purdue, Nebraska.

11. October 25, 2014 – Ohio State, loss, 31-24 (OT). Full-stadium White Out. Attendance: 107,895. Game #7; home game #4; succeeding home games: Maryland, Temple, Michigan State.

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