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Smeltzer: How Oregon, Washington Joining Big Ten Helps Penn State Football, and how it Doesn’t

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)

Oregon and Washington are set to leave the PAC-12 and join Penn State in the (very) Big Ten. As there were when two other PAC-12 schools, UCLA and USC, got approved last summer, there are ways that this helps and doesn’t help Penn State. Here are three examples of each.

HOW IT HELPS PENN STATE

No. 1: Expanded Recruiting 

It’s no secret that Penn State’s recruited well throughout James Franklin’s tenure, and part of the reason its had success is the school’s willingness to recruit virtually anywhere. With two northwest schools about to be in the Big Ten, Penn State will have an advantage over a lot of other schools in recruiting that region. Special teams coordinator  and Sutherlin, Oregon, native Stacy Collins has a recruiting presence in the northwest and was a big factor in getting Class of 2022 OL Vega Ioane to flip from Washington on Signing Day. Now that Penn State is competing with Oregon and Washington, those types of recruiting stories could become more frequent.

No. 2: Marque Matchups 

This one is a double-edged sword, and I’ll explain more in a bit. Talking about the positive first, Oregon and Washington have each been successful programs over the past 15 years. Oregon’s won double-digit games 10 times since 2008.

Washington went to the College Football Playoff in 2016 and has cracked double-digits three times since, the most recent coming with an 11-2 campaign last year under first-year coach Kalen DeBoer. The idea of a top 10 team coming into Beaver Stadium is always intriguing, and, hey, playing Oregon and Washington is a little more fun than Maryland or Rutgers, even if it doesn’t happen every year.

No. 3: Conference Stability

The Big 12 is losing Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC, which is roughly the same as the Big Ten losing Michigan and Ohio State.  Nothing terrible has happened to the ACC yet, but rumors of Clemson and Florida State looking to take their business elsewhere are concerning for the league. As for the PAC-12… well, the PAC-12 will probably be extinct soon. As Franklin noted on Day One of Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last month, the only Power Five conferences that have a solid level of stability are the Big Ten and SEC. Of course, what Penn State and its fans care the most about is winning, which the team should do plenty of over the next few years. But playing in a stable conference helps, too.

HOW IT DOESN’T

No. 1: Travel

For those who don’t know, Pennsylvania isn’t close to either Oregon or the state of Washington. Eugene, Oregon, where the Ducks play, is 40 hours away from State College. Seattle is 38 hours away.

Every current school in the Big Ten plays in a location where traveling via bus from State College is convenient or at least possible.  When Oregon, USC, UCLA and Washington join the frey next season, that won’t be the case. Although its not likely any of those four teams will be on Penn State’s annual schedule, the long trips the team has to make could be draining and give the squad a disadvantage come Gameday. For writer’s like myself, a weekend in Seattle doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world. But for Penn State’s coaches and players, well, it might be a different story.

No. 2: What in the World Will Happen in 2024?

The world found out about UCLA and USC’s impending Big Ten entires in late June 2022. The California school will start playing in the conference in 2024. So, considering the news about Oregon and UCLA broke in July 2023, you’d think, going off recent history, that those two schools wouldn’t start Big Ten play until 2025, right?

Wrong.

Oregon and Washington will also be starting in their new conference next season, which means that the Big Ten’s 2024 schedule, which came out in June, is all messed up. And, boy, did Penn State have a solid 2024 Big Ten schedule, hosting Ohio State and USC at home. Now, who knows what’s going to happen?

If Penn State can’t keep USC on its home slate, that will be a massive disappointment. That would likely  be the team’s most anticipated 2024 home game and, depending on the status of the two programs and the timing of the game, possibly one of the  biggest days in Beaver Stadium history. Now, all that’s up in the air.

No. 3: Where’s the Novelty?

When the USC and UCLA news broke, it felt like a big deal. Those are probably the two most prominent athletic programs on the west coast, so them joining the Big 10, which is historically known as a mid-west themed conference, gives the league a new dynamic.

Do either Oregon or Washington do that?

I mentioned ealrier in this article that both schools have had solid football programs over the past 15 years, and because of that, having them in the league creates exciting matchup possibilities for Penn State. At the same time, do Oregon and Washington move the needle the way USC and UCLA do? I don’t think so.

So although there are good things about the Big 10 adding Oregon and Washington and its certainly better to be a conference that schools want to join rather than leave, there are a lot of people that feel the conference is just getting too big, and I don’t think those feelings are without merit.

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