The 2021 season opener is still a long way off, but I’m here in mid-May to say: tough season-opening games are fun.
Look, I get the appeal of the more traditional cupcake to start the season. Give your players a chance to work out kinks on both sides of the line, knock the rust loose, and generally go play a stress-free game.
Going back to 2011, here have been the opening opponents:
- 2011 - Indiana State (FCS)
- 2012 - Ohio (MAC)
- 2013 - Syracuse (ACC)
- 2014 - UCF (AAC)
- 2015 - Temple (AAC)
- 2016 - Kent State (MAC)
- 2017 - Akron (MAC)
- 2018 - Appalachian State (Sun Belt)
- 2019 - Idaho (FCS)
- 2020 - Indiana (Big Ten)
In 10 years, Penn State opened the season with a Power 5 opponent just twice - 2013 against Syracuse, and 2020 against Indiana. And remember, the only reason the Lions started 2020 against Indiana was due to COVID. The original opponent was meant to be Kent State (again).
The most exciting game in that batch of opponents (at least prior to any season actually starting) was the Croke Park Classic against UCF in Dublin, Ireland.
9/10 years against creampuffs is just, well, boring. And what’s worse is this is the norm across most of college football! Almost every team starts off with an easy win against No Name University. It makes for a very uninspiring slate of games the first weekend of the season.
To combat this, more and more teams are teeing off the season with an actual, meaningful game. They’re jumping straight into P5 competition, and claiming that early season spotlight for themselves. What better way to proclaim your intentions for the season than an opening week statement win, probably on network television, and probably in a prime TV slot?
Sure, people will complain and say a loss in week 1 derails your entire season (see: Penn State, 2020).
To those people I say: have some pride! Where’s the fire? Where’s the belief?
Wisconsin is good you say? Not good enough I say!
The Lions could kiss their playoff dreams goodbye in week 1 you say? The playoffs can kiss their all-SEC dreams goodbye in week 1 I say!
Let’s get 2021 started with a bang - and hopefully, more seasons can get rolling with some excitement in the future as well.