Penn State Football’s October Non-Conference Matchup Provides Unique Opportunity For Student Section To Deliver In Droves
For just the second time during James Franklin’s 10-year tenure at the helm of Penn State football, the Nittany Lions are prepped to play a non-conference matchup at Beaver Stadium at the typical peak of annual Big Ten competition.
Nine years ago, Penn State welcomed Temple to Happy Valley in week 11 after facing six league foes, including Ohio State and Michigan. Running back Akeel Lynch tallied 130 yards on the ground behind just 18 carries, leading Franklin’s crew to a 30-13 victory.
Entering the matchup, the Nittany Lions boasted a measly 5-4 record, consisting of four Big Ten losses over their last five showings. Still, 100,173 fans, including a jam-packed student section, showed up to Beaver Stadium for the gloomy, overcast battle with Penn State’s bowl eligibility on the line with two games left on the regular-season slate.
Since then, college football’s landscape has dramatically shifted. While the inception of the transfer portal and NIL monetization opportunities have almost unanimously helped student-athletes maximize individual brand values while competing at an amateur level, the sport’s makeup, especially at the postseason level, has received a complete overhaul — for better or for worse.
In 2014, Penn State’s previously-initiated four-year bowl ban stemming from NCAA sanctions was revoked in early September, and fans clung to the prospect of supporting their squad in mass, even with Temple looming on a dreary, November afternoon.
Now, however, students appear to be letting go of tickets in mass with UMass on the docket. While the contest’s timing is certainly unique, the opponent doesn’t change the fact that the Nittany Lions are entering the bout with a perfect, 5-0 record, ranked No. 6 in the AP Top 25, while also beating its last 10 opponents by 14 points or more for the first time in the program’s Big Ten era.
Sure, some students might fall victim to fulfilling previously unforeseen obligations this weekend, but fall Saturdays in Happy Valley are meant for football — no matter the team’s record, its ranking, or its opponent. Recently, that widespread mindset appears to have lost itself among the student body.
On Onward State’s student resale ticket exchange alone, 617 students are aiming to get rid of tickets ahead of the Homecoming showdown, with hundreds more expected to hit the secondary market by kickoff. The tally doesn’t account for the Discord platform initiated by previous student section leaders to protect prospective buyers against fraudulent scamming activity.
The widespread, seemingly decreasing student interest in attending non-polarizing matchups isn’t necessarily a Penn State-specific issue, either. The College Football Playoff’s inception in 2014 partially tainted the significance of other New Year’s Six Bowl appearances, which further accentuated itself when Christian McCaffrey opted out of Stanford’s postseason matchup in 2016 to preserve his top-10 potential in the upcoming NFL Draft.
While the “playoff-or-bust” mentality across students hasn’t fully materialized itself within Penn State’s student body as it has at schools among the likes of Alabama and Ohio State, it’s becoming more apparent than ever before.
Two years ago, the student section’s sterling reputation took a substantial hit when a majority of student ticket holders decided to leave early for Thanksgiving break rather than attending the seventh, and final, home game against Rutgers.
Moreover, with a potential Rose Bowl berth looming for just the fourth time since joining the Big Ten, the student section reflected an eerily similar appearance for the last regular season date with Michigan State.
Although total attendance numbers have substantially risen since 2014’s average figure of 101,623 per home game, the collective student buy-in appears to have taken the opposite approach.
Before you know it, your 28 home games granted as a student will pass you by at warp speed. For current seniors who began their academic journeys at Penn State in 2020, the loss of an entire seven-game home slate due to the COVID-19 pandemic should make every student experience in Beaver Stadium even more special than it already is.
I get that Saturday’s spread stands at 42 points in Penn State’s favor. I also understand that summer funds are likely dwindling nearly halfway into the semester, and the prospect of watching Oregon travel to Washington in a nice, warm environment while profiting on ticket sales might be enticing over enduring a likely blowout.
But if Penn State wants to continue to claim its rightful place as “The Greatest Show in College Sports,” students need to show up and show out. Saturday’s opponent should serve as no excuse for anything different.
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About the Author
Kotelnicki has everything he needs to succeed at Penn State. Can he break the Nittany Lions’ trend of flops at the position?
Most of our staffers have Penn State playing in the Peach Bowl for the first time in program history.
The Nittany Lions are now 11-0 all time against the Bulldogs.