Penn State is playing football this Saturday for the first time since the winter, so I’ve decide to make today’s Monday Morning Quarterback about Week 1 games. Big shocker, right? In an effort to be unique, let’s decide which type of Week 1 opponent is the best. Do you prefer a team that Penn State should easily defeat or would you rather jump right into an exciting matchup even though the Lions might have some kinks to work out?
This year, Penn State opens against Akron, a token “MACrifice” that it has defeated most recently in 2014 by the score of 21-3. The last time the Lions opened against Akron was in 2009, and Penn State emerged victorious with a 31-7 win. Playing a MAC team at some point in the non-conference slate is a yearly Penn State tradition, but it doesn’t always work out so swimmingly. Who can forget 2012, when the Lions lost to Ohio in the first game of Bill O’Brien’s tenure?
There’s a downside to every non-conference game, though. Schedule a tough opponent, and you you risk losing the game and hurting your bowl resume. The upside is what Penn State discovered in 2014 during James Frankin’s first game on the sidelines: an emotional victory over Central Florida that lifted the spirits of the team and its fans.
Playing an opponent of lesser reputation might result in a Saturday full of smiles and touchdowns for the home team, but if the Lions don’t win by enough — or worse, if they lose — pessimism is going to abound, small sample size or not. Two of Penn State’s most successful campaigns this century started with too-close victories over teams that the Lions were supposed to blow out. Not many fans saw major bowl appearances coming after the team scraped by South Florida in 2005 or Kent State in 2016.
So which game would you rather see, the safe path that Penn State is taking this year or something riskier that will put the Lions right in the national spotlight? There’s also the in-between route of playing a fellow major-conference team that might not be very good. We last saw this when Penn State played Syracuse in Week 1 of 2013.