Oct. 11—James Franklin’s stance on scheduling non-conference games has been consistently clear in recent years.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, when he addressed a question about it, his response caused surprise and made waves across the country.
“The philosophy and model of (Penn State) haven’t changed,” Franklin stated. “You have to do everything possible to have a chance to end the regular season undefeated. …If your scheduling isn’t geared towards going undefeated, then it’s about minimizing losses to position yourself for the playoffs.”
And he’s right. Last year’s four College Football Playoff teams—Georgia, TCU, Ohio State, and Michigan—all earned their semifinal berths, but their non-conference schedules were far from challenging.
Georgia played non-conference games against Oregon, Samford, Kent State, and Georgia Tech. TCU faced off against Colorado, Tarleton State, and SMU.
Ohio State took on Notre Dame, Arkansas State, and Toledo, while Michigan played Colorado State, Hawaii, and Connecticut.
For nearly a decade, Penn State’s non-conference schedules have been on par with these examples.
So when Franklin referred to the non-conference schedule of “another team in this conference that has had a ton of success the last couple of years,” he wasn’t critiquing two-time defending Big Ten champion Michigan. He was pointing out that the Lions share a similar philosophy.
Next year, college football will see changes. The CFP will expand from four teams to 12, and the Big Ten will grow from 14 to 18 teams with the inclusion of Oregon, UCLA, USC, and Washington.
In the upcoming season, Penn State will have home games against Ohio State, UCLA, and Washington, along with away games against USC and Wisconsin. Ohio State, Michigan, Oregon, USC, and Washington will have comparable conference schedules.
These schedules are more challenging than the current season’s, which leads Franklin to believe that more teams, at least in the Big Ten, will attempt to soften their future non-conference schedules, despite the larger CFP field.
“There’s a team in this conference specifically that’s buying out a multitude of already signed game contracts,” he stated without specifically naming the school. “I don’t believe things have changed. In fact, you could argue that it’s intensified.
“People are altering their schedules because if you consider who they’ll be playing in our conference alone, it’s going to be even more demanding than ever before.”
Since 2015, Penn State has included one Power Five non-conference opponent in their schedule, when they were still dealing with NCAA sanctions.
Next year, the Lions will play at West Virginia and have a home-and-home series with Syracuse in 2027-28. They will face Marshall, Temple, and Buffalo in 2026, and Nevada and Villanova in 2025, with the possibility of an additional major conference opponent.
“Regarding the scheduling model we use at Penn State, I believe it remains the same,” Franklin affirmed. “I have been quite clear on our philosophical approach to scheduling, and the data supports it.”
He was referring to the fact that no team with more than one loss has made it to the four-team CFP. Interestingly, he didn’t mention the variation in the number of conference games played across the country.
For instance, the Big Ten and the Big 12 play nine conference games each, while the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference play eight. This is another reason why scheduling high-profile non-conference matchups, like the Auburn series in 2021-22, doesn’t make sense for Penn State.
The Lions were the first Big Ten team to play at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium since its opening in 1935, and it appears they won’t be returning anytime soon, according to Franklin.
“There’s a reason why this is one of the few games scheduled in the history of the Big Ten,” Franklin stated immediately following Penn State’s 41-12 victory last year. “All the data and analytics indicate that you must do whatever it takes to win your conference.”
And starting in 2024, winning the conference will be even more challenging.
Alex Martin is your guide to the global phenomenon of football. With a focus on international leagues and tournaments, he provides match commentary, player interviews, and behind-the-scenes stories from the world of football.