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Penn State football nears game in Ireland

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 7:42 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has indicated he would like add a destination — such as a rumored game in Ireland against Central Florida in 2014 — to the schedule while the program works through NCAA-imposed sanctions, which have about three years remaining.

Penn State remains in talks to play a 2014 football game in Ireland, and athletic director Dave Joyner said Thursday that plans for it could be finalized within the next week or two.

“We're actively working on it,” Joyner said during the Penn State Coaches Caravan's 12th and final stop on a trip that started April 30.

Neither Joyner nor coach Bill O'Brien would comment on specifics about a game in Ireland. A UCF official recently told the Orlando Sentinel that the school has been talking to Penn State about playing the teams' 2014 season opener overseas.

UCF is coached by George O'Leary, and when asked how fitting it would be to pit coaches with surnames O'Leary and O'Brien against one another in Ireland, O'Brien laughed.

“I don't know anything about that,” the second-year coach said.

O'Brien has made it clear that he would like to add at least one destination game to Penn State's schedule while it works through NCAA sanctions.

Penn State is not eligible for postseason play until the 2017 season, and a trip to Ireland could be a selling point to recruits.

“I hope it happens,” O'Brien said before a reception and speaking engagement at the Sheraton Station Square. “I think it would be great for college football. It would be great for Penn State, for the Penn State fans, so we're working on it.”

O'Brien is also in favor of something else that would be a little closer to home for the Nittany Lions: playing Pitt every year.

The former rivals are scheduled to play four games from 2016-19, and O'Brien said he would like to see the game become an annual event again.

Pitt and Penn State last played in 2000 with the Panthers beating the Nittany Lions, 12-0, at Three Rivers Stadium.

“I wish we could start playing sooner,” O'Brien said. “Pitt-Penn State, who can forget those games back in the day, usually late in the season, snowing? I think it's great for college football.”

Conference expansion is one factor that precludes the once fierce rivals from playing every year. Big Ten teams will start playing nine conference games a season in 2017 to accommodate the additions of Maryland and Rutgers.

Conference schools play eight Big Ten games a season now, giving them more flexibility when scheduling nonconference opponents.

Despite the loss of a nonconference game a season, O'Brien supports the recent change adopted by the Big Ten.

“I believe in this conference,” he said. “I think it's traditional, it's tough. The Big Ten conference is about the right things. I believe the more Big Ten games you can play at night would be fantastic for us, so I'm all for the nine-game schedule.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ ScottBrown_Trib.

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