With the Cotton Bowl already starting to feel like fading a memory and several months before even the start of our 100 days countdown, there’s no time like now to look ahead at the 2020 football schedule.
Each year has plenty of interesting quirks at the hands of the schedule-makers, and 2020 is certainly no different.
The season begins a little later than normal, with week one on Sept. 5 thanks to a late Labor Day. Penn State has a typical MAC opponent to open the season, with Kent State coming to town. While the Golden Flashes have about as poor of a history that you will find, they should be much better than usual next season. Kent State is coming off its first bowl win in program history, taking down Utah State in the Frisco Bowl. Head coach Sean Lewis is a rising star in the profession, and has found success by taking a program in complete disarray and immediately getting them to play beyond their talent level. While the Nittany Lions shouldn’t have much trouble earning the victory, don’t be surprised if the Golden Flashes keep it close for the first half or so. Kent State should be a solid MAC contender in 2020 and will be a far better team than any of the previous squads who played in State College.
Don’t get used to the MAC warm-up games to start the season. Penn State opens the 2021 season with a trip to Madison to face the Badgers. That will be followed by season openers at Purdue (2022), West Virginia at home (2023), a rematch with the Mountaineers in Morgantown (2024) and hosting Virginia Tech (2025).
But back to this upcoming fall as Penn State will face Virginia Tech for the first time in program history in week two. The crowd in Blacksburg will be more than fired up as the Hokies take on a regional, yet somehow completely unfamiliar, foe. The Hokies are coming off an 8-5 season, closing out the year with a 37-30 loss to Kentucky in the Belk Bowl.
Week three also features a first-ever opponent as the Nittany Lions return home to play San Jose State. The Spartans finished at 5-7 in 2019, with several close, heartbreaking losses. They did manage to take down Arkansas in non-conference play, although that shouldn’t be too much of a concern for Nittany Lion fans.
With the non-conference portion of the schedule wrapped up in the first three weeks, Penn State kicks off Big Ten play by welcoming Northwestern to Beaver Stadium in week four. Northwestern followed up a division championship in 2018 by dropping to 3-9 a season ago with an offense that was often nowhere to be found (although perhaps everyone just missed them because they were too busy staring at their phones).
Then comes an absolutely brutal three-game stretch- at Michigan, followed by home games against Iowa and Ohio State. Fortunately, there’s no night game at Kinnick or trip to the Horseshoe to worry about. There’s also a bye following the Michigan game to allow time to heal and prepare for back-to-back games against the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes.
The next week is followed by the absolute definition of a trap game — a Halloween trip to Bloomington with Penn State likely coming off a hard-fought, emotionally-draining, and most likely, season-defining game against Ohio State. Penn State has typically played below expectations in Bloomington, and this year should be prepared for a battle with an Indiana program looking to take the next step after an 8-5 season.
This also starts the beginning of what could be an odd stretch for the Nittany Lions. It’s feasible that Penn State could fall out of the national spotlight after the Oct. 24 showdown with the Buckeyes as they close the regular season with Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers. It’s entirely possible that Penn State will not play a ranked opponent during the stretch, all while huge match-ups with major playoff implications play out throughout the rest of college football.
It’s not that any of those teams don’t have a chance to be ranked at that point in the season, but each of the final five opponents have huge question marks. Indiana is certainly on the right track, but it’s hard to feel strongly that they’ll take the next step and become a 10-win team. We’ve all been hearing plenty of Nebraska hype that hasn’t come close to fruition. Based on how the team looked a season ago, it’s hard to believe that they’re ready to contend for much in 2020. Michigan State seems to be floundering without any idea how to get the offense on track. Maybe Maryland will put it together one of these years, but it’s hard to see them having much hype by late November. There is also Rutgers, which fields a football team.
There is one way for Penn State to make sure they play in a pivotal late-season game to make a final impression on the committee — by playing in Indianapolis on Dec. 5.
PENN STATE 2020 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 5 vs. Kent State
Sept. 12 at Virginia Tech
Sept. 19 vs. San Jose State
Sept. 26 Northwestern
Oct. 3 at Michigan
Oct. 10 - BYE WEEK
Oct. 17 Iowa
Oct. 24 Ohio State
Oct. 31 at Indiana
Nov. 7 at Nebraska
Nov. 14 Michigan State
Nov. 21 Maryland
Nov. 28 at Rutgers