PSU defending early schedule

| Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008

Penn State has taken heat for its soft 2008 nonconference schedule, not all of it warranted.

It's true that scheduling Division I-AA Coastal Carolina -- the 66-10 opening-day victim -- and Temple -- the 1-2 Mid-American Conference team that comes to Beaver Stadium for a noon game Saturday -- falls into the category of virtually guaranteeing wins.

It's also true that while Penn State (3-0) made short work of Oregon State, 45-14, and Syracuse, 55-13, those games were more ambitious opponents at the times the deals were made.

Joe Paterno seemed pleased when he was reminded, after the Syracuse game, that when the two schools agreed on a two-game series, which was announced June 18, 2002, Syracuse was a consistent winner.

"That's right," Paterno said.

Syracuse was 10-3 overall, 6-1 in the Big East in 2001, beating Kansas State, 26-3, in the Bowl. The Orange were on a run of 15 consecutive winning seasons.

From that time in the program, to now, has been a dramatic waterfall. But Penn State could be forgiven for not anticipating that.

Likewise, when Oregon State was added to the Penn State schedule in December 2007, the Beavers were in the midst of 9-4 season and No. 25 finish in the final AP poll. A season earlier, Oregon State was 10-4 and finished No. 21.

"Oregon State will provide another challenging opponent during our nonconference schedule," Penn State athletic director Tim Curley said at the time

Ironically, Oregon State was a late substitution for Arkansas State, which stunned Texas A&M, 18-14, in its 2008 season opener. Arkansas State also blew away Texas Southern, 83-10 in Week 2, and lost a close decision, 27-24, to Southern Mississippi in its most recent game.

Temple's 1-2 record will be characterized as deceiving by Penn State and to some extent it is. The Owls beat Army, 35-7, in their opener, then lost, 12-9, in overtime to UConn, and 30-28 to Buffalo on a desperation pass that went for a touchdown last week.

"They'll be tough," Paterno said. "They've got almost everybody back from last year, plus that quarterback (Adam DiMichele of Sto-Rox) is a good player."

Syracuse comes to Penn State next year in the final installment of a home-and-home deal. Temple plays twice at Beaver Stadium for every home game it gets with the Lions. That series will extend through 2012 with Penn State playing at Temple in 2011.

Paterno explained again last week Penn State's need for such two-for-one deals.

"We need seven home games (for financial reasons) and it's tough to do if you've got to play home and home with everybody," he said.

Even with this weak front part of the schedule, Penn State's overall schedule is rated 45th toughest nationally, based on cumulative records of the opposition when only I-A teams are considered, and No. 52 when I-A and I-AA teams are included.

East Carolina, which began the season unranked, has slotted in ahead of No. 16 Penn State in this week's AP rankings as a reward for a tougher schedule to date. The Pirates upset No. 17 Virginia Tech, 27-22, in Week 1, and upended then No. 8 West Virginia, 24-3, in their second game. East Carolina won at Tulane, 28-24, in its third game.

But when the entire schedule is weighed, the East Carolina schedule ranks dead last in strength based on opponents' cumulative record at No. 119 when only I-A is considered, and 173rd when I-A and I-AA are included.

Additional Information:

No Murderers' Row

Penn State future, present and recent past nonconference opponents:

2009: TBA, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois

2008: Coastal Carolina, Oregon State, Syracuse, Temple

2007: Florida International, Notre Dame, Buffalo, Temple

2006: Akron, Notre Dame, Youngstown State, Temple

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