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July 1, 2014

Column: A middle ground

The day has finally arrived.

More than two decades after Penn State became the eastern outcast in the Big Ten, separated by more than 300 miles from its closest conference counterpart, the official additions Tuesday of Rutgers and Maryland can finally change the conversation.

Though the conference's most recent newcomer, Nebraska, moved the conference further west, the reality of the Maryland and Rutgers additions signal an emphasis within the Big Ten to strongly move east. In fact, more than a few announced moves also bring the conference closer to Penn State.

Beyond just New Jersey and Maryland becoming official destinations for conference opponents, the additions of satellite office space in New York and Washington D.C., along with planned participation in the Pinstripe Bowl, the Gavitt Tipoff Games and the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament in D.C. in 2017 only further cement the commitment to creating an inclusive eastern environment.

What's most fascinating, at least to me anyway, about the additions of Maryland and Rutgers is the combination of overwrought hand-wringing and, on the opposite end, the complete dismissal of the Terps' and Knights' football programs.

Frankly, there seems to be little middle ground.

For Penn State fans and media who have covered the program for years, the relatively blasť attitude has everything to do with Penn State's complete dominance on the field in both series' histories.

Each series unaffected by the NCAA's laughable vacation of Penn State wins, the numbers speak plainly for themselves.

Penn State 22 - Rutgers 2
Penn State 35 - Maryland 1 - Tied 1

Or, a combined 57-3-1. That's math even a journalist can do. And, making matters slightly more lopsided, more than a couple of those Penn State wins against both programs were of the double-digit, laugher variety.

There's always a catch, though, and these series are no exception.

As easy as it might be to just look at the records, there are two other particularly important numbers to identify. Namely, 1995 (Rutgers) and 1993 (Maryland). For as frequently as Penn State faced each program in the past, the Nittany Lions haven't seen either squad in a very, very long time.

This is where the pearl-clutching comes into play. Citing the passing of time and the benefits that will be provided to both Maryland and Rutgers in being able to recruit top prospects in their home footprints to be able to play Big Ten football, the argument suggests that Penn State is soon going to find itself fighting to stay relevant in traditionally fertile recruiting grounds.

With the Big Ten Network offering a guaranteed ability to watch games for parents and family, the need to make the three or four hour drive to State College will no longer be a necessity.

Though prognosticating is among the heights of foolish endeavors, every indication suggests that neither extreme scenario is likely to manifest itself in the near future.

Hamstrung by the NCAA's sanctions against the program, at this point, every win for Penn State counts as an accomplishment. While new head coach James Franklin certainly has established a recruiting mojo Penn State fans are salivating over, its impact won't have an immediate on-field effect.

In terms of this year's games, that makes both contests more of a toss-up than many fans would probably like to admit.

And yet, that very mojo paints a picture of diverging paths between the three programs.

While Franklin has helped Penn State rack up one verbal commitment after another, enough to give the Nittany Lions the No. 5-rated recruiting class in 2015, Maryland and Rutgers sit at No. 27 and No. 42, respectively.

Does this guarantee future results? Hardly, but the fact that Franklin has scooped up some of the top prospects in Jersey and the DMV to form more than 58 percent of the existing class (10 of 17) is telling.

In any case, the evolution from this point forward will be fascinating to see.

Penn State NEWS


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