The Penn State Nittany Lions are entering year two of a severe four-year NCAA sanction that includes a postseason ban. Without the promise of a bowl game at the end of the year, many have predicted that recruiting will be more difficult for head coach Bill O’Brien. While he has done exceptionally well so far, Penn State is still looking for ways to set themselves apart in the recruiting process. They may have done just that by using “destination games” as substitutes for bowl trips.
In 2014, Penn State has come to an agreement with the Central Florida Knights to play their season opener in Ireland, much like the Notre Dame Fighting Irish did last season against the Navy Midshipmen. Penn State’s first choice was to play Notre Dame, of course, but scheduling the Irish right now as they attempt to work out their new ACC obligations is a Herculean effort. Instead, the Nittany Lions will settle for UCF in a “Battle of the O’s” with PSU head coach Bill O’Brien squaring off with Central Florida’s George O’Leary.
The destination game is a creative workaround to Penn State’s bowl ban because it gives players the reward of a big trip and a game preceded by plenty of pomp and circumstance, just like most of the regular bowl games. It essentially is a way to reward the team for their hard work while simultaneously raising the profile of the program by taking their brand international. This game just happens to come at the beginning of the season rather than the end.
There are still some wrinkles left to iron out before Penn State packs their bags for Ireland, but the way the school aggressively approached this opportunity shows that they are thinking outside the box. They may not get to go to a bowl game or the Big Ten Championship, but they will have at least one marquee game that everyone will be watching when they jump the pond and play in Ireland to kick off 2014.