One of the most exciting division races in college football this season will be the Big 10‘s East Divison. Specifically, we’re looking at a battle likely between Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan. Naturally, in a race that is going to be as tight as this one, it’s absolutely critical each team takes advantage of whatever it can. In the scheduling department, Penn State may have the advantage. The Nittany Lions will play both Michigan State and Ohio State in Happy Valley, and they must capitalize on that good fortune.
It goes without saying that the home field has the potential to be a major factor in these potentially critical games. It’s probably an even greater factor in this case because of the nature of Happy Valley. Both game times are yet to be determined, but it’s probably a safe bet at least one of these games will be primetime, if not both. If that’s what end up happening, good luck to any opponent. Happy Valley after dark is such a special environment.
One of the keys to Penn State’s success (or lack thereof) is going to be quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who’s going to be a sophomore this season. In his freshman campaign last year, Hackenberg didn’t play drastically better at home compared to on the road, but there are some differences worth noting. You see increases in both yards per attempt and completion percentage at home. I’m obviously aware that isn’t the entire game, but when a guy as vital as Hackenberg can play better in one environment compared to another, it’s an advantage.
Last season, because of the former Legends and Leaders Divisions, Penn State didn’t get a shot at Michigan. But it did take a whack at the Buckeyes, though it was a very, very pathetic whack. The Buckeyes stomped all over the Nittany Lions, 63-14, in Columbus, easily qualifying as Penn State’s most lopsided and embarrassing loss of the season.
I recently ranked the five Penn State games you must watch this season, and both these games naturally fell into the top two spots. Michigan State is last game of the season for both teams, and both the Spartans and Nittany Lions could very well be a win away from going to play for the Big 10 championship.
It is so critical for Penn State to take advantage of these two home games. If the schedule had both these games on the road for the Nittany Lions, I would have a difficult time considering them a serious contender. But it’s just the opposite of that. On top of a quality coach and talent spread across the board, Penn State gets a unique advantage with its home schedule. It shouldn’t be squandered.