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Why Penn State Has 5 Consecutive Home Football Games in ’15

by on June 04, 2015 10:20 PM

For the first time since 1922 and only the third time in its history, Penn State will play five consecutive home football games this fall:

Buffalo (Sept. 12), Rutgers (Sept. 19), San Diego State (Sept. 26), Army (Oct. 3) and Indiana (Oct. 10).

“How in the hell,” many Nittany Lion fans are asking, “did this happen?”

Well, truth be told, it all – even most of it – isn’t Penn State’s fault. Blame it on the Big Ten.

And the need for seven games in Beaver Stadium so the sanction-strapped Penn State athletic department can pay its bills, as well the recent revolving door of head football coaches and athletic directors.

But, mostly, the Big Ten has done Penn State no favors. Penn State had already scheduled Rutgers for Sept. 19, even before the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten. So PSU was kinda stuck there. And then the Big Ten handed Penn State Indiana on Oct. 10 – with no recourse for Penn State. Of course.

The Big Ten did give Penn State the option of originally moving the Rutgers game to what is now the Nittany Lions’ bye week for 2015, which is Nov. 14. But that would have meant Penn State’s new bye week would have been on Sept. 19 -- the third week of the season – followed by nine consecutive games, including eight conference games without a break.

No self-respecting head coach – be it Bill O’Brien or James Franklin – would have settled for that. So, Rutgers in Week Three was the lesser of two evils. (The Scarlet Knights ended up with Nebraska on Nov. 14.)

BYE AND BYE

These days, creating the Penn State non-con football schedule is a collaborative effort involving athletic director Sandy Barbour, Franklin and Rick Kaluza, Penn State’s veteran senior associate athletic director of finance and business operations. Kaluza and O’Brien were strong partners in putting together Penn State’s schedule during OB’s two-year tenure. And prior to that, A.D. Tim Curley, senior administrator Fran Ganter, Joe Paterno and Kaluza had varied roles in the process.

Over the past four seasons, Kaluza has taken the administrative lead on the non-conference scheduling, with an eye toward the strength of the opponent (Barbour and Franklin have somewhat differing views on this in some regard) and the bottom-line. It ain’t easy in the best of circumstances. But when the sanctions hit and a steady stream of coaches and administrators followed, it was hardly a wallapalooza.

Five consecutive Penn State home games is a perfect storm, although it happened back in 1920 and 1922. Penn State went 10-0 at home those two years, winning by a 370-34 margin against the likes of Muhlenberg, Dartmouth, St. Bonaventure, William & Mary and Lebanon Valley (a 109-7 win in 1920). Talk about a home field advantage. 

Penn State has had four home games in a row 11 times, dating back to 1905. In those 44 contests, the Nittany Lions were 40-3-1, with a 1,627 to 373 scoring advantage. In Penn State’s national championship seasons of 1982 and 1986, it played four straight home games, going 4-0 both years. And for those of you who are bemoaning the 2015 slate, the 1986 four-straight home schedule from Sept. 27 to Oct. 18 was hardly Murderer’s Row – East Carolina, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Syracuse.

More recently, Penn State played four consecutive home games in 2002 and 2009, going 3-1 in both stretches. The 2009 block “featured” Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Iowa, as No. 5 Penn State lost to the No. 22 Hawkeyes, 21-10 in a Whiteout.

FIVE FOR FIGHTING

Here’s how the five consecutive Beaver Stadium home games in 2015 came to be:

BUFFALO (Sept. 12) -- 5-6 in 2014; 22-38 in 2010-2014.

The Bulls were formally added to the Nittany Lions’ schedule in July 2011, back when Curley was athletic director and Paterno – already having decided it would be his final season – was the head coach. Penn State hosted Buffalo in 2000, winning 45-24. It’s pretty clear that Curley scheduled this game as a cupcake for Paterno’s successor, the Bulls having gone 34-118 in the decade prior to the signing of the contract.

Buffalo announced on July 13, 2011, that it would play at Beaver Stadium on this date in 2015. Penn State, often stealthy in such matters in the past, made no such public pronouncement. Putting the Bills in that spot requires a lot of shuffling on behalf of Buffalo. Penn State was originally slated to play Temple on Sept. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field, but with the Owls’ consent, moved that game to Sept. 5 – its current and final date.

Once Temple was shifted to the opening weekend of the 2015 season, there were no other non-conference road games to move and break up the string of five home games in Beaver Stadium.

Penn State has rarely opened its season with a road contest, the 2013 (Syracuse, Meadowlands) and 2014 (Central Florida, Ireland) games notwithstanding. Other than those two games, since joining the Big Ten for football in 1993, Penn State has started the season on the road only three other times – at Minnesota in 1994, and against Southern Cal in the Meadowlands in 1996 and 2000. Now, in the midst of the toughest stretch in Penn State football history, PSU will begin its third-straight campaign on the road.

RUTGERS (Sept. 19) -- 8-5, 3-5 Big Ten, with a 13-10 loss to Penn State in 2014; 36-28 in 2010-2014.

Ironically, Rutgers was originally slated to play at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 12 when it signed its contract with Penn State, back in 2009, as part of a two-game series for 2014-15. Remember, back in 2009 Rutgers was not a member of the Big Ten, so this game on this date made more sense. It was a non-conference game against a traditional rival – although "rival" may be a bit of a misnomer; Rutgers was 1-16 against Penn State in 1977-95.

When Temple was originally signed for 2015, that game slid into the Sept. 12 slot and pushed Rutgers into its current Sept. 19 spot. Still, at that point Sept. 5 was open, conceivably for a home game season-opener in Beaver Stadium.

The Rutgers game took away Penn State’s flexibility to schedule a bye week in September, because PSU needed to get four non-conference games and a home conference game in the span of five weeks – Sept. 12 through Oct. 10 – before the start of the “normal” Big Ten Conference schedule, which commences on Oct. 17 at The Horseshoe against defending national champion Ohio State. (That’s a really tough normal.)

SAN DIEGO STATE (Sept. 26) – 7-6 in 2014; 41-24 in 2010-2014.

This was a relatively late hole to fill. Penn State had to schedule a game in Beaver Stadium; it needs the money, especially compared to the take from an away non-con game.

The groundwork was laid under O’Brien in 2013, but it was formally announced late – last Aug. 13, 2014. Barbour was hired on July 26 and officially started on Aug. 18, so this deal was rubber-stamped. There was no time for dickering, since the Nittany Lions desperately needed a home game on this date. Stat.

Actually, San Diego State was a pretty darn good find by Kaluza, considering it was late in the scheduling game. It’s a very rare contest against a West Coast opponent for Penn State. The last time Penn State played a team from the West Coast was on Jan. 1, 2010, against USC in the Rose Bowl. The last regular season match-up against a team from the West Coast was against Oregon State in Beaver Stadium in 2008, preceded by USC in 2000 in the Meadowlands.

San Diego State is far from a gimme. The Aztecs won nearly two-thirds of their games over the past five years, have been to four consecutive bowl games and have 15 players named to Phil Steele's College Football Magazine 2015 Preseason Mountain West preseason team – second-most in the league. 

ARMY (Oct. 3) – 4-7 in 2014; 19-31 in 2010-2014.

Army was also a late addition to the Penn State schedule. Again, there was no way Penn State could make this a road date – it would cost an already-strapped athletic department well into the seven figures vs. a home date.

And again, the groundwork was laid under O’Brien and announced on Sept. 3, 2014. Clearly, the uncertain status of Barbour’s predecessor -- Dave Joyner, who had the “interim” tag for much of his tenure – impacted future scheduling. O’Brien had a vision for what he wanted, but he and the sometimes-indecisive Joyner did not always see eye-to-eye. That clouded Penn State’s football scheduling future, as did its sanction status.

Still, I think Army is a good opponent. Scheduling a service academy is -- pun intended -- nearly bullet-proof. Military academies engender feelings of patriotism, and Penn State is using that to institute a special ticketing program for veterans and active-duty soldiers. I have a soft spot for Army football, although it is far from its Mr. Inside-Mr. Outside days. I was the editor for many years of football and sports annuals covering Army, Navy and Air Force, and appreciate the high-caliber of their student-athletes and their many challenges. And the first Penn State football game I wrote about (for the Daily Collegian) was on Oct. 13, 1979, when Matt Suhey ran for over 100 yards to beat the Black Nights, 24-3, on Homecoming Day.

Besides, Army sure beats the usual MAC fare of Akron, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Toledo and Western Michigan.

INDIANA (Oct. 10) – 4-8 with a 13-10 loss to Penn State in 2014; 19-34 in 2010-2014.

Chalk this one up to the Big Ten just loving Penn State. Kidding.

When the Big Ten did its scheduling for 2015, Penn State was given this game against Indiana. Didn’t ask for. Was given. (This from a conference that capriciously taketh away from Penn State $15.95 million in bowl revenue and gives a home contest on this date against the lowly Hoosiers.)

And that’s how Penn State got five home games in a row in 2015.

 

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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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