Penn State is 'pretty similar' to what Auburn saw last year... but there are some key differences
What should be familiar to the Tigers in their rematch against the Nittany Lions? And what's new about James Franklin's squad? Here's a deep dive into both sides.
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Neutral-site openers aren’t that cool anymore.
Back when they were all the rage, Auburn played in four of them in an eight-year stretch. The Tigers won three of those, including the last two against teams who turned out to be the Pac-12 champions. They made a lot of money for a lot of people, but they often felt like a watered-down college football product.
This sport is about tradition. It’s about on-campus stadiums. It’s about home-field advantages and challenging road trips. Playing a glorified bowl game in an NFL stadium just doesn’t quite compare, especially when the start of the season is supposed to have maximum excitement.
But neutral-site openers aren’t that cool anymore, unless you’re the Big Ten and you keep wanting to send doomed teams to Ireland. This year, Georgia smashed Oregon in Atlanta, then Clemson had a weird ACC opener with Georgia Tech there two nights later. Florida State played LSU in New Orleans. All three of those games were virtual home games, in some respect.
Alabama is even done with playing these games. The next several years of college football scheduling are filled with home-and-home matchups, which are the truest form of big non-conference matchups. That means great things for campuses, fans, players, coaches, media members, etc.
It also means that we’ve created more of these old-school series, where a team can play in a big game against an unfamiliar foe and then get a rematch a year later. It’s a great way to show how things can stay the same in college football (staff stability, returning starters, similar schemes) and also change dramatically over the course of a single offseason (bigger coaching carousels, the transfer portal, NFL draft decisions).
Auburn’s rematch with Penn State this weekend is a perfect example. On paper, not a ton has changed for Penn State between now and its 28-20 home victory over Auburn last season. Even Auburn’s own head coach and team captains said as much earlier this week.
“I think Penn State's a really good football team,” Bryan Harsin said. “I know (Penn State head coach Franklin) and I've been around him a few times, and I think he does a tremendous job with his guys. I know he's detailed. I know he coaches well. I know he's got his coaching staff prepared.
“I saw a good football team (in the last matchup). I saw a well-coached football team. I saw a good football team that played hard. … This is a really good football team that we're going to play and we've got to make sure that we're at our best when we step on the field.”
But dig deeper, and you can see that new personnel both on the field and on the sidelines will go a long way in determining how this matchup will play out Saturday.
In today’s newsletter, let’s break down both sides of that coin — the similarities between this year’s matchup and last year’s game, then what’s different on both sides for the Tigers and the Nittany Lions.