How did new B1G schedule impact Penn State's Playoff chances?
Who would have thought that a schedule release would not have been the biggest piece of news to come out of Happy Valley this week?
But just hours after reports developed of All-American linebacker Micah Parsons deciding to opt out of the 2020 season and prepare for the NFL Draft, the next domino in a long line of unknowns surrounding the 2020 college football season fell with the Big Ten unveiling its 10-game, conference-only schedule.
The announcement follows similar decisions by the other Power 5 conferences to adopt a conference-only slate or conference +1 model.
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) August 5, 2020
Penn State’s road to the College Football Playoff was originally scheduled to begin Sept. 5 at home with an easy tuneup game against Kent State, but with the cancellation of the Nittany Lions’ 3 out-of-conference games (Sept. 5 vs. Kent State, Sept. 12 at Virginia Tech, and Sept. 19 vs. San Jose State), just how much has their shot at winning a national title been impacted?
The obvious elephant in the room is the conditions of the home game now on Nov. 7 against Ohio State. Penn State was going to have its hands full with one of the best teams in the country in a normal year, but at least the Nittany Lions were in position to host the Buckeyes in arguably the most hostile environment in the nation for visiting opponents.
Now, remove 110,000 screaming fans in a whiteout atmosphere that ESPN’s College GameDay has frequented in seasons past, and it’s going to come down to solely the X’s and O’s between the lines.
Ohio State likely has the edge in talent over Penn State — especially given Tuesday’s comments from Justin Fields on his decision to play this year and the Parsons report — so it’s advantage Buckeyes in what could likely be a de facto play-in for the Big Ten Championship and ensuing College Football Playoff. The rivalry game, however, was pushed back 2 weeks from its original date, which should give the Penn State offense more time to adapt to new OC Kirk Ciarrocca’s play-calling.
But what the Nittany Lions lose in hosting the Buckeyes in an antiseptic environment, they gain when they travel to the Big House to face Michigan in Week 3 on Sept. 19. Penn State has not fared well during the James Franklin era in his trips to Ann Arbor. Franklin-led teams are 0-3 on the road against the Wolverines, including a pair of 35 and 39-point drubbings in their past two visits.
With the effects of the schedule change on those blockbuster matchups being a wash, not much has changed regarding the ability of Penn State to navigate its schedule in an attempt to emerge unscathed.
The Blue and White still open with Northwestern at home, and the only added game to its schedule is a crossover game at Illinois in the final week of the season, something that should be an easy W.
The Nittany Lions can also find solace in not having to play in Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium, a tough place to win regardless of the type of team the Hokies field.
Sure, it would have been great for the lesser-experienced players to pick up some reps against Kent State and San Jose State as well as giving Sean Clifford more time to ease into Ciarocca’s offense, but all in all, a successful Penn State season remains 100% contingent on the result of its game against Ohio State.
If Penn State is unable to beat the Buckeyes in an empty, or greatly reduced capacity Beaver Stadium, the rest of the schedule alterations are really a moot point.
As much as plans have changed and dates are written in pencil, not pen, the showdown with Ohio State looms large in deciding Penn State’s Playoff fate.