There’s always going to be a Georgia State. At least, for the foreseeable future.
Penn State is playing its least heralded game of 2017 on Saturday when Georgia State visits Happy Valley, a game that has the Nittany Lions pegged as a whopping 38.5-point favorite.
In sculpting a non-conference schedule each season, Penn State is looking for a specific formula. One power-five opponent. One MAC opponent. And a third team from a lower conference that isn’t running any sort of radical scheme.
For this current stretch from 2017-19, Pitt fills that marquee spot from a power conference. The Lions played Akron from the MAC already this season and will face Kent State in 2018 and Buffalo in 2019.
That other spot — call it a tune-up game, even if the Lions would never say it out loud — will bring in the likes of Georgia State this year, Appalachian State next year and Idaho in 2019.
“I have strong feelings about scheduling,” Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “It’s something that me and (athletic director Sandy Barbour) spend a lot of time talking about and discussing. We’re kind of looking at how the playoff system kind of played out last year. You kind of got a bunch of different scenarios to factor in.
“I think the playoffs are one factor that you’ve got to look at when it comes to scheduling, but I think the most important thing you can do year-in and year-out is schedule in a way that’s going to give your team the best chance to win your conference. And then everything else will take care of it from there.”
That means that fans shouldn’t expect to see teams like Army and Navy, both of whom have played at Beaver Stadium in recent years, to be back any time soon.
That’s because both service academies run a triple-option scheme that does little to prepare the Lions for the rest of the season.
“You look at teams that run an option-style offense,” Franklin said. “Well, it’s not just the impact that you have to make with your team in terms of time, in terms of preparing for an option-style team, but also what it takes away during camp from preparing for the other styles that you’re going to play the rest of the year.”
When the Pitt series ends, Penn State has home-and-home series set up with Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Auburn as their marquee non-conference matchup.
Beyond that, Franklin is open to adapting the formula as more data comes in from more years of the College Football Playoff selection committee’s decisions.
“The problem is we’re dealing with people, not computers anymore,” Franklin said, referring to the old BCS system. “So the people in the room change year-to-year, so I don’t know how consistent the data is going to be because it’s not going to be the same people making these decisions.
“I still would make the argument that the best thing we can do is win our conference. I think if you win your conference, that’s the best case that you can make. And then after that, humans are going to make decisions.”
More for the future
As for the part of the schedule the Lions can’t control, the Big Ten announced its conference schedules for the 2020 and 2021 seasons on Tuesday.
Penn State opens at home against Northwestern in 2020 and has five Big Ten home games, with four on the road, including at Michigan.
Most interesting is that the Lions will have their 2021 season opener on the road at Wisconsin on Sept. 4 as the Big Ten looks to have more league games in September — a la Ohio State at Indiana in Week 1 this season.
It will be the first time since Penn State’s first two seasons in the Big Ten — 1993 and 1994 against Minnesota — that the Lions’ opener will be a conference game.
Senior safety Marcus Allen was named the Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week on Tuesday for his performance against Pitt — 12 tackles, including one for a safety.
The trophy is awarded at the end of the season as a national defensive player of the year award that also factors in intangibles. Penn State’s Carl Nassib won the trophy in 2015.
Penn State’s coaches names Allen and cornerback Grant Haley as their top defensive players for the Pitt game, joining Saquon Barkley on offense and the special teams trio of Irvin Charles, Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor.
About that quote…
As a coda to that 33-14 win over Pitt, Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi responded briefly to Franklin’s postgame comment that defeating the Panthers “was just like beating Akron,” whereas Pitt beating Penn State “was like the Super Bowl” for the Panthers.
“You’d have to ask him,” Narduzzi said Monday at his weekly press conference. “I really don’t have — you can ask that question. I really don’t have — they went low, we went high, and you would have to ask him.”