What's in Store After Ireland for Penn State Football? The Good, The Bad & Howard
Assuming that when the ash settles, there will be a game...
When Penn State’s blue buses roll into State College by way of Pittsburgh around 3 a.m. next Sunday, Central Florida and Ireland will be behind them.
By one game, one ocean, 15 hours and 3,328 miles, to be exact.
It will already be Akron Week for the Nittany Lions. And as Irish neighbor William Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s past is prologue.”
There will be jet lag, to be sure. But for head coach James Franklin, the next play is the thing. To drive home that point, there will be no immediate rest for the sure-to-be Penn State weary.
Throughout the season, and beginning next Sunday, the Nittany Lions will practice on Sundays and then take Mondays off. (Most college teams do vice versa.) It’s a game week that is not only new to Franklin’s freshmen, but all of the other Penn State players as well.
It will mean, however, that the Penn State players will not be laboring on Labor Day. Next Monday, because of the holiday, Penn State will not have classes. Fall semester classes begin this Monday and run through Friday.
So, after a light team practice and video review on Sunday, Aug. 31, Penn State’s players could have as many as 35 to 40 hours of downtime between the end of that day’s football commitments and when they have their first class on Tuesday, Sept. 1. (And even more time, if they don’t have classes on Tuesdays.)
Still, the two weeks following Penn State’s return from Ireland – with games against visiting Akron at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 6 and at Rutgers on Sept. 13 – represent their own set of unique challenges. Kick-off time is just one of them. The Central Florida game in Ireland on Saturday starts at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. The Akron contest kicks at noon and the Rutgers game, the school’s first-ever Big Ten Conference game sure to be surrounded by lots of hype – including a Big Ten Network GameDay-ish set-up -- begins at 8 p.m. Routine, what routine?
HOWARD IS A (VERY) COMMON OPPONENT
Wait, there’s more.
Akron plays its 2014 season opener at home against Howard this Thursday night, so they’ll have several more days of rest than Penn State in advance of the teams’ Sept. 6 contest. And, dare I say, could be Zippier as a result.
Penn State will be experts on Howard by the time it plays the Scarlet Knights. Franklin, his coaches, and graduate assistants will be watching a lot of Howard on iPads, laptops and meeting room screens their first two weeks back from Dublin. The only 2014 video they’ll have for Akron is the Zips’ game against Howard, a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference that was 6-6 last season -- although Howard did win its final three games by scoring 40-plus points in each.
This Thursday, Rutgers flies 2,398 miles west to play its season opener, against Washington State University in Seattle. Then, Rutgers will go nine days until its second game of the 2014 season – against Howard, at home in Piscataway on Sept. 6. Yes, that Howard. That means Franklin’s staff will have at its advance scouting disposal two Rutgers games from 2014 – Washington State and Howard.
At least Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will get to see how Rutgers defends two strong, but divergent, passing attacks. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday returns to run mad man Mike Leach’s offense. Halliday was 449 of 714 (both Pac-12 records) for 4,597 yards, with 34 TD passes, 22 interceptions and two 500-yard games. That was in a season (2013), not his career. Howard is led by quarterback Greg McGhee of Pittsburgh, the 2013 MEAC Player of the Year, who passed for 2,379 yards and 16 TDs, and ran for an additional 896 yards.
Scouting-wise, Franklin and his coaches finally get a break for the Nittany Lions’ Sept. 20 home game against UMass. The week before, on Sept. 13, UMass will be playing in Nashville, Tenn., against a team with which Franklin and his staff are very familiar – Vanderbilt. (Vandy, by the way, opens the season this Thursday by hosting Temple, which Penn State plays at home Nov. 15.)
To recap: Akron, Rutgers and Temple (PSU and Franklin opponents in 2014); Vanderbilt (where Franklin was head coach in 2011-13); Washington State (where Franklin got his masters as a GA in 1998); and Howard all play this Thursday night. But Franklin’s current team doesn’t.
Really? That’s what Franklin thought shortly after he was hired.
“They tried to downplay it when I first got here, and sell to me why this is such a wonderful thing,” Franklin said back in May.
“I asked, ‘Couldn’t we have done it on a Thursday night to open the season to give us more time to get back?’ But it was too late. That’s what I would’ve done. I would’ve said, ‘Let’s do it on a Thursday night. We’d have the time to get back and it doesn’t affect your next week.’ That’s in a perfect world. But it was too late.”
AFTER IRELAND: A 7-2 RECORD
If college football history is any indication, the turnaround for Penn State may not be as tough as one might think. There have been eight regular season official college football games in Ireland, dating back to 1988. And often, the return trip home produces a victory six days later.
Of the 16 college teams that have played in Ireland, four completed their seasons with the trip overseas. But nine played back in the United States the very next week, and surprisingly, compiled a 7-2 record. (Victorious were Holy Cross, 1991; UMass, 1993; Rhode Island, 1993; Notre Dame, 1996 and 2012; Navy, 1996; and St. Norbert, 2012.)
The remaining three teams had an off-week upon returning from Ireland and resuming their schedule. They fared worse, with a 1-2 record. One of those squads was Navy in 2012. After losing 50-10 to Notre Dame in Ireland that year, the Midshipmen had a week off, then lost 34-7 to the Nittany Lions in Beaver Stadium. That was Bill O’Brien’s first win as a head coach at Penn State.
Here’s a look at college football games that have been played in Ireland:
Regular-Season NCAA Games Played in Ireland
1988 – Boston College 38, Army 24, Dublin (attendance: 45,525)
1989 – Pittsburgh 46, Rutgers 29, Dublin (19,800)
1991 – Holy Cross 24, Fordham 19, Limerick (17,411)
1992 – Bowdoin 7, Tufts 6, Galway (2,500)
1993 – UMass 36, Rhode Island 14, Limerick (5,124
1996 – Notre Dame 54, Navy 27, Dublin (38,651)
2012 – John Carroll 40, St. Norbert 3, Dublin (4,877)
2012 – Notre Dame 50, Navy 10, Dublin (48,820)
Since 2007, the NFL has played at least one regular-season game each season in London’s Wembley Stadium. Three more are scheduled for the 2014 season. In all, from 2007-13, eight NFL contests were played in England. The NFL cuts each participating team a break and gives them a bye week following the game in London. That bye week is a small advantage.
Of the 16 NFL teams that have played in London, they’ve had a better-than-average combined 9-6-1 record (59.4%) in their next game after London, with the extra week off. That’s higher than the average success rate of a team playing after a bye week. From 2008-2012, according to Tristan Cockcroft, NFL teams won just 54.1% of the time after a bye week.
Penn State has two bye weeks in 2014 – before and after its Oct. 25 game against Ohio State in Beaver Stadium. That doesn’t help them now. The Nittany Lions’ biggest saving grace may be the slate of opponents they face in September, upon their return from Ireland.
Penn State's foes in Weeks No. 2 through 5 are Akron (5-7), Rutgers (6-7), UMass (1-11) and Northwestern (5-7). All are coming off bad seasons, with a combined record of 17-32. That’s a winning percentage of 34.7%.
And none of them played Howard.