Should the Big Ten have league games in Week 1? Rudel-Giger point-counterpoint | News, Sports, Jobs

Sure, it provides immediate urgency

by Neil Rudel

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I have no problem opening the season against a Big Ten team.

I actually like it, even if it’s away from home, where Penn State has started the conference schedule seven times in a row and 12 of the last 13 seasons.

(This is one of James Franklin’s new topics, dating back to the Big Ten media days last month. New athletic director Pat Kraft doesn’t like it either and plans to address the issue with the conference.)

The advantage of playing a league game early on is that it brings immediate urgency to fall camp and draws in the fan base.

It forces a team to be ready and is a welcome departure from an early-season run-up of Nevada, Villanova and naming a MAC team.

Last year and this year, Auburn wasn’t in the conference, but if Franklin did the schedule (he doesn’t), it would be San Diego State and not Auburn. (Last year, he said the game was made by the “management,” presumably referring to Sandy Barbour, now retired, and AD, now deceased, of Auburn).

He has also made his ambivalent feelings about playing Pitt known, lukewarm at best.

Regardless, there are too many games for hire to win in college football when programs are willing to hand over and collect a multimillion-dollar paycheck for what amounts to a glorified fight.

The bottom line is that if the team is good enough, it doesn’t matter.

Penn State went to Wisconsin last year and gained a lot of confidence by winning at Camp Randall, 16-10, with a great defensive effort (never mind that the Badgers couldn’t take a snap when they entered PSU 5).

The game was a springboard to a 5-0 start before injuries and not having a backup quarterback ready contributed to a collapse in Iowa followed by a collapse of the season.

It had nothing to do with the opening in Wisconsin.

Penn State has had great performances in the opening games with Franklin and before him.

Their first game, won by a kick from Sam Ficken over UCF in Ireland, was one. Winning at Camp Randall should be in the top five for him.

Going further back, Penn State’s first Big Ten game was the 1993 opener against Minnesota, which failed to cover Bobby Engram, or the 1994 opener at Minnesota, which went just 56-3.

The Lions opened in nearly 100-degree heat in Maryland in 1985 and used the game as a springboard to a pair of undefeated regular seasons.

They put on impressive season-opening performances at the Kickoff Classic, against Georgia Tech (1991) and USC (1996), and crushed fourth-seeded Arizona to close the curtain on 1999.

And there have been season-opening clunkers: the infamous Kickoff Classic in 1983 against Nebraska when the Lions were still celebrating being crowned No. 1 for the first time, a season-opening loss to Virginia in 1989, and starting the 2000s with a 29-5 loss to USC in East Rutherford, NJ

Participating in a national (Fox) television game provides a great opportunity for exposure, as Penn State-Purdue will have the stage almost to themselves (except for the Pitt-West Virginia fans).

It forces a team to be ready early on and is a welcome departure from a Villanova start to the season, naming a MAC team and a third non-conference game.

A challenging season-opening game, conference or otherwise, forces the coaching staff to make sure they haven’t worn the team down in camp, and usually if the team is good enough, it won’t matter.

No, Big Ten should learn from the SEC

By Cory Giger

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Do you know what the SEC doesn’t do? He doesn’t endanger his teams by having them play each other in week one, putting the loser immediately behind the 8-ball.

You know what else the SEC doesn’t do? He doesn’t play a nine-game conference schedule. The SEC plays eight, thus preventing their teams from sticking together even more.

The SEC gets it from a competitive standpoint. Before playing Auburn this year, Alabama will play Austin Peay.

Before playing Ohio State this year, Penn State will play Minnesota, a can’t-miss game that’s also at night.

There are two ways to watch college football schedule:

1. What do the fans want?

2. What is best for the teams and the league?

Sure, absolutely, Penn State playing Purdue on a season-opening Thursday is great. It is national exhibition. Like last year in Wisconsin, it provides the opportunity for a big early win.

Fans love those kinds of games.

But those kinds of games also provide the opportunity for a tough opening loss, one that could shape the rest of the season.

It happened to Penn State at Indiana in 2020, on the ridiculous 2-point conversion call. That loss crushed the Lions, who opened the season 0-5.

Penn State could go 10-2 this year. Or 7-5. Anything and everything else is on the table.

But if the Lions lose at Purdue, they’re much more likely to fall into that 7-5 realm.

If they could open up against, say, Kent State and iron out a few mistakes before facing a tough opponent, that would be better for the team than starting with a possible conference loss away from home.

Going back to the SEC, that league gets it because its goal is to keep as many of its top teams in contention for a college football playoff spot for as long as possible. That’s why not playing a conference game to start the season and not playing a nine-game league schedule is beneficial.

Make it as easy as possible for your league members to stay afloat on the CFP ship for as long as possible.

It’s not how Big Ten does it, which is essentially making things as difficult as possible.

Of course, this programming philosophy helped the Big Ten land a billion-dollar TV package, in part because it can offer an incredible inventory of games, including compelling first-week conference matchups.

But by following that path, Big Ten has sold his soul for money. Now, that money will actually help everyone in the league compete at a higher level, and that’s certainly a good thing.

But by starting the season with conference play, the Big Ten is unnecessarily endangering its members and making it difficult for top teams that are more susceptible to surprise losses early on.

Sure, fans might love to see that sort of thing. And yes, it’s actually very good for business.

But it’s just not the smartest way to go from the perspective of helping keep teams relevant on the national stage.

Cory Giger covers Penn State for DK Pittsburgh Sports and hosts “Sports Center” Monday through Friday from 4 to 5 at WRTA. He can be reached at [email protected].

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