Why Is Penn State Playing Villanova?

In 2017, the Big Ten allowed teams to play FCS opponents again. Penn State scheduled Villanova and Delaware.
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Before playing Auburn, Penn State coach James Franklin was asked how the program had scheduled Auburn.

"Our administration wanted to play Auburn," Franklin said through a smile.

Though Penn State won 28-20, and Franklin was able to share Big Ten hospitality with the SEC, he knows this: The Lions now must visit Auburn on Sept. 17, 2022. Big Ten road games are difficult enough; why strain the schedule further with Power 5 road trips as well?

"I'm a big fan of the neutral-site games," Franklin said before playing Auburn. "I think those are things that make a lot of sense. When you can play a neutral-site game rather than committing to a two-game series, where you have an opportunity for both teams to treat it in some ways like a home contest in terms of the gate and those types of things, it allows you to maybe get into a region of the country where your fan base may enjoy it as well and see a different venue. I think that is something to consider moving forward as well."

Granted, this has nothing to do with Penn State's game Saturday against Villanova, but it does offer insight into Franklin's scheduling perspective. Essentially, the Penn State coach wants to compile a schedule that gives his team the best possible chance to be a playoff contender. Home-and-home series mitigate that.

With the Big Ten playing nine conference games, and the potential for Power 5 crossovers of the recently announced Alliance, Penn State has to schedule at least two winnable, bankable home games per season. In odd-year seasons through at least 2027, one of those will be against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision.

Penn State will play Villanova on Saturday (noon on Big Ten Network) and in 2025 and Delaware in 2023 and '27 thanks to a Big Ten amended policy. In 2017, the Big Ten allowed its teams once again to schedule FCS opponents in seasons when they play four conference home games.

Former Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in 2017 that the conference initially barred FCS scheduling to enhance its television product, "strengthen packages for season-ticket holders" and to "impress the College Football Playoff committee."

But, Delany said, some programs had unexpected scheduling issues.

"When we went to nine games, we did not anticipate the problems that some of our schools would have in years that they only had four conference home games," Delany said then. "It was very difficult for them to get three FBS opponents onto their schedules if they were looking for seven home games."

Penn State likely isn't one of them. Franklin said other programs contact Penn State weekly with scheduling suggestions. Yet, the program will play Villanova and Delaware over the next four years.

Franklin doesn't necessarily agree with the strength-of-schedule argument regarding the playoffs, though he understands the position. Remember: If Penn State had not been required to play a Power 5 non-conference game in 2016 (and subsequently lost to Pitt 42-39), it could have made a better playoff case at 11-1.

"It's interesting, because you have all the discussion about strength of schedule, and the Big Ten already plays nine conference games," Franklin said before the Auburn game. "For a while there we didn't play [FCS[ opponents, because the model was supposedly strength of schedule to position our teams and our conference best for the playoff."

So why Villanova? Franklin said he has known coach Mark Ferrante,  former coach Andy Talley and other staff members for years. It's a regional school with a strong team (ranked No. 11 in the FCS) that will derive recruiting as well as financial benefits from the game.

"I think Nova Nation will be excited to make the trip to Happy Valley," Ferrante said when the game was announced. "This game makes a lot of sense for us on a number of levels."

As for Franklin, he still remembers Villanova bypassing him on the recruiting trail at Neshaminy High.

"Would I have liked to have been recruited by Villanova? Yes," Franklin said. "Villanova gave me the stiff-arm, just like Penn State did. I wasn't good enough. I had a really good experience where I played and where I went [East Stroudsburg]. But yeah, I was interested in all those types of schools but was not that type of player."

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