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Smeltzer: Penn State Football Scheduling Quirk Odd, But No Big Deal

Penn State president-elect Neeli Bendapudi hands Penn State hat to incoming athletic director Dr. Patrick Kraft

Penn State starting Big Ten play on the road 13 times in 14 seasons isn’t normal, so let’s get that out of the way right off the bat.

It’s an odd quirk for any program, let alone one of the most recognizable ones in the country, and it’s not something that’s happening to Ohio State or Michigan.

I don’t know why Penn State always starts conference play on the road, and this article doesn’t support whatever the conference’s thought process is.

People have a right to be annoyed.

I support Athletic Director Patrick Kraft’s rants, for the most part. Kraft spoke his mind on the issue this past July, well before the 2023 PSU football schedule came out, and did it again Wednesday after the reveal took place.

Saying that Penn State should start Big Ten play at home every season, which Kraft implied in July (“We should be at home for our opener,”) is a bit much. But it should start at home some of the time, certainly more than once in 14 seasons. If nothing else, Kraft speaking out shows how passionate he is about his job, and that’s something that has made him a fan favorite early in his tenure and is a big difference from what Penn State had with its previous AD, Sandy Barbour.

Kraft needs to see Penn State as one of the premier athletic programs in the country, and needs to make sure that its getting its due respect from the conference it represents. Constantly putting Penn State on the road isn’t a sign of respect, so good on Kraft for speaking out against it.

But is it necessary for Penn State fans to have the same venom? I don’t think it is.

Sure, its reasonable to be slightly annoyed by the quirk. But, at the end of the day, Penn State has done well when its started the Big Ten season on the road. So I’m not sure how people can see it as that much of a disadvantage.

Since coach James Franklin took over in 2014, Penn State is 7-2 in conference openers and 6-2 when the opener is on the road.

That’s pretty good.

Some great have resulted from Penn State opening on the road. Trace McSorley’s walk-off touchdown pass to Juwan Johnson at Iowa in 2017. That was magical for Penn State fans. Beating Maryland 59-0 in 2019, when the school cancelled classes so students could get ready for the game. That was hilarious. Beating Wisconsin and Purdue the past two years in Week 1, both wins coming in dramatic fashion. Those were great ways to start a season.

So the quirk has some benefits. Maybe McSorley’s famous throw doesn’t happen if the Iowa game is played later in the season. Maybe Penn State doesn’t beat Maryland by 59 if that game happens in November. Penn State’s win over Wisconsin could have been remembered as the start of something great, but then, of course, the team finished 7-6. This year’s win at Purdue could be looked at that way, as well, depending on how Penn State’s last five games turn out. If Penn State somehow beats Ohio State and, even more improbably, wins the Big Ten championship and goes to the college football playoff, Sean Clifford’s game-winning drive will go down in Penn State lore much more so than it already has.

It’s ironic that the thing that upsets Penn Staters the most about their 2023 schedule— which also featured a game against Delaware— revolves around a game that takes place in September.

Penn State hasn’t lost in September since 2018, so the Earth, Wind & Fire classic should be a hit amongst the locker room.

Franklin’s teams know how to win early in the season; it’s the last two months where Penn State’s had trouble. So I tend to believe next year’s squad will be fine regardless of where its Big Ten  opener is.

Plus, playing a team like Illinois, which appears to be good again, early on will give Penn State a chance to make a statement on the road, a chance that it cashed in on at Wisconsin last season and Purdue this season.

I understand why always starting Big Ten play on the road is an annoyance for Penn State fans. But that’s all it should be. But far as affecting the program from an on-field standpoint is concerned, I don’t think it has much of an impact.

At the end of the day, Penn State will play seven home games and five road games. If the team is good and its stars stay healthy, it will show in the record. If not, it won’t.

I’d be more annoyed with scheduling UMass in October.

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