Neutral sites bring college football to new fans

FedEx Field, Wrigley Field, Yankee Stadium to host college football games

November 19, 2010|By FROM SUN NEWS SERVICES

Penn State was picky in choosing game film to study Indiana.

The Hoosier horror flick that was the 83-20 defeat last week to Wisconsin was tossed aside to focus on what Indiana did right its two previous games, losses to Iowa and Northwestern by a combined eight points.

That's the team coach Joe Paterno thinks the Nittany Lions (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) will face when the schools meet Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.

"I watched it when it was … Wisconsin was ahead 30, 40 points and then I didn't waste time looking at it," Paterno said. "There wasn't anything to be learned after that."

Surely though, Paterno's injury-riddled team must be salivating at the opportunity to play an opponent that allowed the highest point total in any Big Ten game since 1950. Indiana (4-6, 0-6) has lost its last three contests away from Memorial Stadium by at least 28 points.

Technically, Saturday's contest is an Indiana home game — but the Hoosiers will be playing more than 600 miles from Bloomington. Indiana agreed last year to move the game to the 91,000-seat home of the Washington Redskins for $3 million.

It could look like "Beaver Stadium South" because of all the Penn State connections in the Washington, D.C.-area, a fertile recruiting ground for Paterno in recent years. Among the notable players are receiver Derrick Williams, linebacker Navorro Bowman and current senior and school career rushing leader Evan Royster.

Penn State and Indiana aren't the only teams meeting in neutral stadiums Saturday:

• Illinois and Northwestern will be meeting in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. The Big Ten announced Friday that the teams had agreed to some drastic and unusual changes for Saturday's game at the historic home of the Chicago Cubs — including running all offensive plays toward the end zone that doesn't happen to come within a foot or so of a padded brick wall.

The Illini (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) need a win against Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) this week or next week against Fresno State to become eligible for a bowl game. The Wildcats are already planning a postseason trip, hoping to win a bowl for the first time since the 1949 Rose Bowl.

• Notre Dame is playing in the Big Apple for the first time since 1969 and even though the only thing the Irish will be fighting for against Army on Saturday night in Yankee Stadium is bowl eligibility, it's an event.

New York has always been a sort of home away from home for the Fighting Irish. There are more than 8,200 Notre Dame alumni in the metropolitan area and that's not counting the so-called subway alumni, those New Yorkers who grew up rooting for the Irish without ever setting foot on the campus in South Bend, Ind.

So it makes perfect sense Notre Dame would play the first game at the Yankees' two-year-old, $1.5 billion ballpark. It's such a special occasion, the Irish will be wearing kelly green jerseys for the first time under coach Brian Kelly.

It should also feel like a home game for Penn State. A team spokesman said Friday the Nittany Lions have sold 21,000 tickets through the school's ticket office, and Landover is just a three-plus hour drive from Happy Valley — closer than most of the other Midwest road trips to Big Ten outposts. Plus, there are about 42,000 Penn State alumni living in the Washington region.

With a host of family and friends from his hometown of Fairfax, Va., expected to be in the stands, Royster could reach another landmark Saturday, needing 217 yards to become the first Penn State running back to have three 1,000-yard seasons.

He could reach the milestone Saturday if Indiana's defense doesn't get better in a hurry after allowing 338 yards and six touchdowns on the ground last week against Wisconsin. Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch has been trying to keep his team's spirits up.

"The points jump out at everybody, but we can't let that affect where we are and what's ahead of us," Lynch said. "You never get too high or too low in this business because the next one is coming up."

Indiana is 0-13 against Penn State. To keep things at least respectable, the Hoosiers may need a big day out of quarterback Ben Chappell, who hurt his hip last week but is expected to play.

Chappell's 273 passing yards per game lead the conference's top aerial attack against a Penn State defense that hasn't played up to its typical lofty standards. The Nittany Lions have a tendency to play well in one half, and slip in the other — regardless of the order.

Against Ohio State last week, the defense shut down quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the first before the Buckeyes romped after halftime. Poor tackling and a lack of a pass rush were issues again.

And just as Penn State seemed to be over its season-long rash of injuries, linebacker Michael Mauti — perhaps the team's best defender — suffered a right shoulder injury that will likely keep him out Saturday. Punter Anthony Fera is already out after an appendectomy this week, with freshman Alex Butterworth listed next on the depth chart.

Safety Malcolm Willis, a redshirt freshman pressed into starting because of injuries, won't use youth or inexperience as an excuse.

"Injuries are part of the game. … Being one of the young guys, you just have to be ready to step up and fulfill your role on the team," said Willis, of Marbury, Md. He hopes about 50 family and friends show up Saturday wearing Penn State gear.

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