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April 15, 2014

Column: Regardless of outcome, night kick a win for Penn State

Penn State has been here before, just in reversed roles.

The announcement Tuesday morning that new head coach James Franklin and the Nittany Lions would play host to Ohio State for an 8 p.m. kick in October - just two weeks after a 7 p.m. kick at the Big House against Michigan - probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Even in the midst of the NCAA's onerous sanctions against Penn State, as one of the continued premiere programs in the Big Ten, to see the Nittany Lions earn national spotlight bids against two of the conference's other powerhouse programs is natural. In fact, as noted in Penn State's media release following the announcement, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes have played six of their past 10 contests under the lights. In this case, the game will be broadcast on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2.

Granted, for Penn State fans who made the trip to Columbus last October, a healthy dose of deserved reservation should accompany Tuesday's announcement.

Facing a Buckeye program nursing an undefeated season and on the hunt for impressive wins, the Nittany Lions looked more like the Sacrificial Lambs at the Horseshoe. The Buckeyes ran up a 28-0 mark midway through the second quarter before the Nittany Lions could blink, true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg was hurt early in the game, and, even with a late-game 65-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Allen Robinson, Penn State still walked away with its most lopsided loss in modern program history.

Even to the most optimistic Penn State fan, the sanction-imposed challenges that doomed the Nittany Lions against the same opponent last season still exist today. Not that Hackenberg and company are incapable of playing with or even beating Ohio State this time around, but to call the challenge anything less than significant would be a gross understatement.

Inside the Lasch Building though, even understanding the significant challenge, the announcement is a total win for the program.

Though Penn State itself doesn't lobby for its participation in home night games, the Big Ten does. In this case, there's every reason to be thrilled by the outcome.

With Franklin taking over and building excitement to unprecedented levels, thanks in no small part to his and his staff's recruiting efforts, any risk of a primetime, national TV blowout at home is completely outweighed by the positives.

Continuing to focus on the end game - a 12:02 a.m. call to four-star '15 OL Tyler Carr, as reported by Rivals' Mike Farrell, to kick off the spring evaluation period - even without having been to a Penn State night game before, Franklin understands the opportunity at hand.

Definitely win, but even lose, an 8 p.m. game against a rival school in front of Penn State's long-established tradition of fans that hit bananas-level insanity at least four hours before entering Beaver Stadium is never a bad thing.

With a win, the staff can let it speak for itself to the triple-digit recruits on hand. With a loss, the staff simply throws in, "Imagine how great it will be when YOU win in this atmosphere."

Excelling in selling the future, the atmosphere alone figures to be yet another living example of the vision Franklin hopes to bring to Penn State. And that, in and of itself, is a win.

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