That’s right, with the addition of Nebraska beginning in 2011, the Big Ten will have twelve members. Gone are the days of hiding the “ten that is actually 11″ thing Escher-like in the conference logo.
Gone are the days of my being able to refer to this league as the Big Eleven Ten (I will be sticking with Big Tweleveten beginning in 2011 unless they change the name.) And gone are the days of Penn State being the figurative new kid on the Big Ten block.
But when the focus is returned to this upcoming season, what isn’t gone are the days of Penn State having an early loss. In fact, the Blue and White may have doubled-down on that trend as the Nittany Lions face the first schedule ever that features three teams that won BCS bowl games, and two of them are scheduled in the first five games. Even better, there is some huge irony in the fact the Lions get to play the role of the Christians in the Roman era, as they get to face all three away from Happy Valley.
September 4 - Youngstown State
Let’s be honest. This is merely a tune-up, Youngstown won’t mount any real opposition; instead, they will be happy to take a Happy Vally seal-clubbing, and return to Ohio check in hand.
September 11 – @ Alabama
This easily could be the Ghosts of College Football’s past. Back in the days when Penn State was still independent, a Joe-Pa vs. Bear Bryant contest was a regular on the schedule. Not to mention the Nittany Lions routinely faced an SEC team in their usual bowl game.
Now it is Alabama who is coming off a National Championship and enters this season ranked at the top of the food chain. Penn State will face a daunting task to win in Tuscaloosa, but if they do, look for The Blue and White to rocket up the rankings.
September 18 - Kent State
The Golden Flashes should be just another little Ohio school coming to collect a pot of gold for being another Lions’ sacrificial lamb. Although they have a hope Youngstown State doesn’t; a letdown after the trip to Tuscaloosa.
September 25 - Temple
Once again, Temple will be the second MAC representative to face the Nittany Lion buzzsaw. They also will likely become the first one to lose to a Joe Paterno-led team 26 times. Once again, this will just continue to put the in-state rival from Philadelphia in sole possession of the distinction of suffering the most losses to a Paterno-led team.
October 2 – @ Iowa
Last year, I dubbed this game The Rolaids Bowl. This year, I have made it official; Iowa has replaced Michigan as one of two “red circles of seething hate” on my Penn State schedule (of course, the Ohio State Suckeyes being the other). How does this game get such a distinction? Because fucking Iowa always finds a fucking way to win this fucking game. The last time Penn State visited Iowa City, they left having to swallow that miracle field goal. Iowa also returns a very solid team from that which won a BCS game back in January.
Then there’s the “ugly numbers;” such as Iowa’s 7-1 record in their last 8 games against the Nittany Lions in this decade, Penn State’s 7-10 record in Big Eleven Ten openers, and are only 3-3 in conference openers at Happy Valley and you see why the PSU faithful may need to keep the antacids handy.
October 9 - Illinois
Illinois represents the first conference foe toward which I am officially dismissive. The salad days of Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Rashard Mendenhall are long gone, and odds are head coach Ron “I never met a Coke machine I couldn’t head-butt” Zook have will be gone soon as well. Zook is clearly on the list of guys who need to win to save their jobs. Going to Happy Valley after what is likely a Penn State loss on the road doesn’t bode well for Coach “Z”picking up a “W” here.
October 23 - @ Minnesota
This will be Penn State’s first visit to Goldy F. Gopher’s new home in TCF Stadium. Having lived in Minnesota last year, I can tell you personally this is a beautiful facility. It is even better if you don’t look at the team Minnesota puts on the field. This program defines mediocre; being just good enough to make a low-level bowl game, but never being able to get over that hump. The combination of the new stadium that brought heightened expectations from boosters coupled with the mediocrity which has spanned two different head coaches means Tim Brewster is beginning to reek of the same cologne of desperation in which Ron Zook and Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez are marinating.
October 30 – Michigan
See the entries for the previous two games. First of all, Mi-shit-gan is the second conference foe that can be summarily dismissed. The math is easy: the “spread offense” without any real talent equals Purdue at the end of the Joe Tiller era when the Boilers’ douchebag AD started screwing around with the team. Secondly, there is the aforementioned “cologne of desperation” oozing from Coach “Forehead” Rodriguez’ pores.
Michigan supporters simply won’t support any further slippage of this program; its “bowl or bust” for Rodriguez, and like Zook, he isn’t likely to get a helpful outcome in State College.
November 6 – Northwestern
Honestly, Northwestern scares me when Penn State has to go to Evanston. The Blue and White have only ever lost three times to the Wildcats; two of those occurring in Illinois. While Northwestern has improved to the point where they are no longer everybody’s homecoming patsy, the Wildcats tend to become the declawed kitties in Happy Valley.
November 13 – @ Ohio State
This very easily could be the conference championship game. I won’t go through the litany of “what if” scenarios; suffice it to say if Penn State and Ohio State enter this game with less than two losses each, the implications could be huge.
Last time he went to Columbus, Joe Paterno proved there is a formula for beating the Ohio State Penitentary University. The calculus remains the same this year; if you want to see a Penn State win, you want to see a plodding, ball-control type game with stiff defense on both sides, something akin to watching two sloths using a rock to break open a coconut. If that happens, the blue sloth will win by a field goal.
November 20 - @ Indiana (FedEx Field, Washington, D.C.)
Now for the streak that has taken on even more meaning in the last year. Since joining the Big Eleven Ten, Penn State is 13-0 vs. the Hoosiers. However, on this day, I happen to be getting married to an alum of Indiana’s biggest rival. And even though Purdue isn’t on Penn State’s schedule this year, if for some odd reason the Nittany Lions lose this game, I will have no choice but to get an immediate divorce as I will not be shackled to a jinx.
November 27 - Michigan State
Since some things never really change, I’m just going to quote myself from last year.
“Picture it…State College, in a closet somewhere deep in the recesses of Beaver Stadium sits the Land Grant Trophy. It has been there for years, draped in a towel with years worth of dust on it. It’s two days before this game, and nobody can remember where they left the damn thing…it won’t matter, because they won’t need it…The reason is simple: the Spartans are always out of gas when they get to this game…and this year will be no exception.”
The bottom line: expect The Nittany Lions to be in a bowl game; BCS in the best case, and no worse than New Year’s Day in any event.