When it was announced that Maryland and Rutgers would join the Big Ten, the news was met with some criticism. In addition to making the conference’s name even more inaccurate, many were concerned that the two schools wouldn’t add much to the conference, even watering down the competition in the league.
Not everyone has been unhappy with the news, however. With 15 students on the roster from New Jersey, and another nine from Maryland, the Penn State football team is looking forward to taking on the school’s new Eastern counterparts.
Especially the school in Piscataway, New Jersey.
“There’s good football there, and there’s a lot of good players there,” senior Bill Belton said on Tuesday. “You see a lot of schools coming in and picking guys from there, and I’m one of those guys. I’m definitely looking forward to [playing Rutgers].”
Belton, a Sicklerville, N.J. native, continued on to say “[Rutgers] recruited me, but I wanted to play big-time football, so I came to Penn State.”
Linebacker Mike Hull and kicker Sam Ficken echoed Belton’s sentiments, saying that the Rutgers game, set for a prime-time kickoff, is definitely circled on the team calendar.
“Everyone’s really excited about the Rutgers game, because we have a lot of guys on the team from New Jersey,” Hull said. “I think that’s going to be a really big rivalry for us. It’s great that we’re playing teams closer to us.”
Ficken was quick to point out that the Nittany Lions have a huge fan base in New Jersey, and he’s most looking forward to giving those fans something to cheer about close to home.
“Penn State was the most eastern part of the Big Ten, but not now with [Rutgers] joining,” said Ficken, a senior from Valparaiso, Indiana. “We have a ton of people from that area on the team, and a ton of fans from that area, so obviously that adds a little extra incentive. It’s something that we’re all really looking forward to.”
Unlike Penn State’s “rivalries” with, say, Ohio State and Michigan, the hate from Rutgers seems to be coming back at Penn State in full force. Just ask Rutgers coach Kyle Flood, who refuses to call Penn State by its real name. He instead refers to Penn State as “The School in Pennsylvania,” or even “The School Out West.”
“I think the biggest difference [between the AAC and the Big Ten]is the excitement it creates for the fan base, there’s no doubt,” said Flood. “Also, our players are excited to test themselves against the best teams in the country, whether it’s Michigan, or whether it’s ‘The School in Pennsylvania.'”
Flood continued, “We’re really looking forward to playing our Neighbors to the West. The game was actually scheduled before we joined the Big Ten, and I’m glad it worked out that way. I think it’s a great opportunity to make a good first impression in the Big Ten.”
Hopefully, with the 15 players who call New Jersey home, and the 26,600 members of the Alumni Association living in the Garden State, Penn State can make a first impression of its own on Rutgers.