Penn State Football’s Road to the 2018 Playoffs Runs Through Beaver Stadium
Kentucky bluegrass. That’s what Penn State’s home turf is made of.
It came from Tuckahoe Turf Farm in Hammonton, N.J. The sod is 1-3/4-inches deep and it came with a price tag of $34,000 when it was installed in August 2017.
It was a great investment for James Franklin & Co.
Last season, the Nittany Lions had a homefield advantage almost like none other, winning their seven home contests in Beaver Stadium by an average of nearly 33 points.
In fact, over the past three years, Penn State has been almost invincible in Beaver Stadium. When the Nittany Lions take the field against Appalachian State on Sept. 1, it will have been a long time since they last lost at home.
1,015 days, to be exact.
That would have been Nov. 21, 2015, and a 28-16 loss to No. 13 Michigan in the home season finale.
Since then, the Nittany Lions have reeled off consecutive 7-0 home records in 2016-17 for a 14-game winning streak that was last matched in 1990-92. (Penn State has had six 7-0 home records since moving to Beaver Stadium in 1960 — 1978, 1982, 1986, 2008, 2016, 2017).
Combined with their 6-1 home mark in 2015, Franklin’s squad is 20-1 over its last 21 contests in Beaver Stadium. Over those last three seasons in Beaver Stadium, Penn State has outscored the opposition, 759-305, winning by an average margin of 21.6 points.
Both offense and defense have contributed to that dominance. In seven of Penn State’s last nine home games — with the departed Joe Moorhead calling the plays — they scored over 40 points, while averaging 35.6 points at home in 2015-17. Defensively, the Nittany Lions under Bob Shoop and then Brent Pry have surrendered 14 points or less in two-thirds of those 21 games, with four shutouts and seven games yielding a TD or less.
THE 2018 HOME SCHEDULE
Now, heading into 2018, Penn State is just one more perfect 7-0 record from tying the longest home winning streak in Beaver Stadium history, which was in 1970-74. That 21-victory streak included three consecutive undefeated seasons at home (5-0 in ’74, 6-0 in ’72 and 6-0 in ’73) — a record the Nittany Lions are shooting for in 2018.
They’ll get plenty of help from the Penn State student section, which recently purchased 21,000 season tickets over a span that took all of 48 minutes. It took the PSU senior class — including my daughter Courtney, a ChemE major and lifelong townie who’s been to just a handful of home games in her 21-plus years…until this fall — just three minutes to gobble up its allotment.
2018 Penn State football tickets are hot, hot, hot. So much so that Penn State has stopped selling season tickets — it reports over 6,300 new season ticket holders — and is no longer selling single-game tickets to games against Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State.
It’s quite a home slate. There’s the rub.
Penn State’s 2018 home schedule is brutal.
It includes Ohio State (Sept. 29) and Wisconsin (Nov. 10), both ranked in the Top 6 of most preseason polls. Plus, there’s Michigan State (Oct. 13, Homecoming), which returns an amazing 21 starters from a 10-3 squad. And Iowa (Oct. 27) and Kirk Ferentz have shown a propensity to defeat any team, anywhere. Over their last eight games in Beaver Stadium, the Hawkeyes are 4-4, although Penn State has won the last two. Among those wins is that 6-4 2004 classic, a win in overtime, a win in double-overtime, and a 2009 upset of a Nittany Lion squad that was ranked No. 5.
Yikes. Times four.
(Compare that to the 2015 home slog of a slate that was Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana — in consecutive weeks! — and Maryland and the aforementioned Michigan.)
A TOUGH HISTORY
2018 looks to be the Nittany Lions’ toughest home schedule in quite a long time. (They also host Appalachian State, 9-4 in 2017; Kent State, 2-10; and Maryland, 4-8.)
It is likely the toughest Beaver Stadium slate since 1999, when they defeated No. 4 Arizona and No. 18 Ohio State, then fell 24-23 in a heartbreaker vs. Minnesota, followed by a loss to No. 16 Michigan.
Or 1997, when they hosted No. 7 Ohio State (a 31-27 win), No. 4 Michigan (a 34-8 loss) and No. 24 Wisconsin (a 35-10 win) in a six-week home stretch.
Or 1989, when over four weeks they lost to No. 6 Alabama, beat No. 13 West Virginia and lost 24-23 to No. 1 Notre Dame — after opening the season with a 14-6 home loss to Virginia.
Or 1983, with home games against No. 13 Iowa (a 42-34 loss), No. 3 Alabama (a 34-28 win), No. 4 West Virginia (a 41-23 win) and Notre Dame (a 34-30 win). That may most closely approximate the 2018 home schedule. Who knew that the Beaver Stadium opener that year, a 14-3 loss to Cincinnati, was going to be one of the tougher home contests?
Or 1982, which featured Beaver Stadium victories against No. 2 Nebraska and No. 5 Pitt. Or 1980, which included home losses to No. 3 Nebraska and No. 4 Pitt.
Or…or…well, you get the idea.
WHAT JAMES SAYS
What makes the 2018 home schedule so tough is both its quality and quantity. All without a Top 25 non-conference opponent. Maybe Franklin was right this spring when he addressed the Nittany Lions’ out-of-conference scheduling philosophy while on the Coaches Caravan.
“What you have to do, based on your institution and based on your program, you have to do everything in your power to be undefeated and to win your conference championship,” Franklin said. “All of the other variables, you can’t control.”
No matter how you look at it, in 2018 the chances of PSU and CJF making the CFP — College Football Playoff — begin at home.