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Smeltzer: How UCLA, USC Joining Big Ten Could Help, Hurt Penn State Football

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 30: Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on October 30, 2021.(Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire)

Thursday was quite a day for Penn State football fans and, really, all college football fans. 

A little after 12, Penn State fans found out that four-star safety King Mack committed. That was indisputably good news. 

The news that came out hours later can be looked at as good or bad.

At 1:23 p.m. Eastern Time, word got out that both UCLA and USC had planned on joining the Big Ten as early as 2024. Within hours, that report proved to be accurate, and now, barring any surprises, it’s happening, and it likely won’t be just the two LA schools. 

Reports indicate that the Big Ten could become a 20-team “super conference.” UCLA and USC would be the 15th and 16th teams in the Big Ten, so that means four more unknown schools could be coming. 

 

This is undoubtedly a big deal and just as undoubtedly a polarizing issue. Like pretty much anything in life, UCLA, USC and whoever else joining the Big Ten has its positives and negatives, pros and cons, upsides and downsides, etc., and here’s a breakdown of how it could be good, and bad, for Penn State football. 

HOW USC, UCLA, OTHERS JOINING THE BIG TEN COULD HELP PENN STATE: RECRUITING 

Anybody who follows Penn State football, either as a fan or from the outside, knows James Franklin and his staff can recruit. 

Penn State finished the 2022 recruiting cycle with the No. 6 class in the country, per 247Sports, and is currently ranked No. 5 by 247 for the 2023 cycle. 

That speaks for itself, but for next year’s cycle, what’s more telling is where Penn State is getting its commits from. 

So far, of Penn State’s 16 pledges, half have come from either Virginia (3), Florida (2) or Alabama (2). 

Before four-star EDGE Tomarrion Parker committed last week, Penn State hadn’t had a pledge from Alabama since 2014. It got two in less than a week, with four-star safety DaKaari Nelson announcing his commitment four days later. 

Penn State only had one commit from Virginia last year, and already has three, with more potentially on the way. 

So Franklin and his staff know how to recruit from players from more than just Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland, and with two prominent California programs joining the Big Ten, Penn State will get more exposure in that part of the country, potentially meaning more recruits. 

And California is a mighty fine state to find talent

Although Penn State doesn’t necessarily need an additional edge in recruiting, having a greater platform for California high school football players could certainly help the school land more blue chips. 

HOW USC, UCLA, OTHERS JOINING THE BIG TEN COULD HURT PENN STATE: COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS WE KNOW IT IS DEAD

This could be seen as a cop-out because this article is specifically about Penn State football and what I’m about to write pertains to a lot more than just Penn State. 

Nonetheless, I think it needs to be said. 

This is an opinion piece, and my opinion, shared with many others, is that UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten is a bad thing overall. 

Even though conferences have evolved for better or worse over the past decade, this impending change would be unprecedented, and for me, it’d be unprecedented for all the wrong reasons. 

I could write a separate full-length story about my feelings, but for now, I’ll just say that I and many others think college sports are better when conferences are regional and don’t have schools located all over the country. 

California schools being in the Big Ten kills the regional feel of the league. 

HOW IT COULD HELP: BIG TIME MATCHUPS

USC playing Penn State under the lights at Beaver Stadium would be awesome. Moving on. 

HOW IT COULD HURT: TRAVEL

Of the 14 schools that currently make up the Big 10, only Rutgers and Maryland have further commutes to Los Angeles, which is 37 hours away from State College

Playing USC in the LA COlesuem or UCLA in the Rose Bowl would be fun for Penn State. The process of traveling there probably wouldn’t be.

HOW IT COULD HELP: AVOIDING OHIO STATE???

Since Penn State upset Ohio State in 2016, Ohio State has been Penn State’s bogeyman in the Big Ten East. 

Ohio State is riding a five-game winning streak over Penn State, and in 2017 and ’19 especially, Ohio State kept Penn State from winning the division by winning the matchup at Ohio Stadium.

It remains to be seen how many schools will join the Big Ten and what the divisions will look like, but if it ends up that Penn State and Ohio State wouldn’t play each other every year, well, that would stink from a rivalry and entertainment standpoint but could make the path to the college football playoff easier for Franklin and company. 

HOW IT COULD HURT PENN STATE: NOT AVOIDING OHIO STATE/GETTING USC

Of course, Penn State and Ohio State could end up in the same division, which wouldn’t make things any easier for Penn State. 

Additionally, USC could become great again under coach Lincoln Riley, so as awesome as playing USC in Happy Valley or LA LA Land would be, it could lead to some losses for Penn State as well. 

Overall, there are good things and bad things about UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten. You can be the judge over which outweighs which, but what’s indisputable is that it gives us a lot to talk about. 

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