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Neil Rudel on football: Revamped schedule for 2022 helps out Penn State

Penn State has spent a portion of its Big Ten existence — now since 1993 — wondering whether it was an equal member or still pledging the conference.

In that regard, news this week that the league has reworked the Nittany Lions’ 2022 football schedule came as a surprise.

As the 2021 was careening out of control, going from 5-0 to six losses in the last eight games and a full faceplant of 7-6, the PSU narrative shifted to 2022 and probably the most murderous six-game stretch to open a season in school history.

The first six weeks, with no bye, included at Purdue (opener), at Auburn, Ohio State and at Michigan.

Which, given the Nittany Lions’ plethora of question marks, translated to 3-3 at best.

I’m assured the Big Ten was not reacting to Penn State concerns but rather patching up situations that developed due to COVID.

For example, Illinois was inexplicably scheduled to visit Beaver Stadium again next year, but was mercifully removed from the Lions’ schedule. (After the nine-overtime loss in 2021, PSU fans probably don’t care if they ever see the Illini again.)

A bigger development was separating Ohio State, previously scheduled for Oct. 1, and at Michigan (Oct. 8). The Lions will visit Ann Arbor, now following a bye, on Oct. 15 and the Buckeyes will come calling likely for a whiteout on Halloween weekend (Oct. 29).

For his sake, here’s hoping James Franklin isn’t driving a pumpkin by then.

The other good change is bumping Michigan State to the regular-season finale, at home, rather than the trip to Rutgers that had been scheduled to end the season.

One of 2022’s main storylines will be how soon one of the freshman quarterbacks, such as Ohio product Drew Allar, cracks the lineup.

Sean Clifford, we know, is back for a sixth season and while few are excited about him breaking longevity records, he will be an insurance policy for Franklin and a presumed tutor for Allar, Beau Pribula and Christian Veilleux.

The revamped schedule will give the newbees a chance to get their feet wet before October.

In other PSU developments:

— Noah Cain didn’t stay in the transfer portal long. On the day he announced his departure via Twitter, he was already committed to LSU. Cain grew up in Baton Rouge before finishing high school at the IMG Academy in Florida. He’ll need to regain the explosiveness he hasn’t shown since his freshman season (2019).

— Nowadays, when describing position groups, you’re hearing constant references by players, coaches and even media as “rooms.” It seems these rooms need to be equipped with back doors for the transfers.

— Counting strength coach Dwight Galt’s retirement, Franklin has lost four trusted confidants off last year’s staff — defensive coordinator Brent Pry, special teams coach Joe Lorig and Michael Hazel, the director of football operations who joined Pry at Virginia Tech. Franklin has proven he’s not great with change so add that to his list of 2022 challenges.

— One coach the Lions have really missed, IMO, is former defensive line coach Sean “Chaos” Spencer, who left in 2020 to join the New York Giants. Now that the Giants’ staff has been fired, I wondered if there would be a window for a return, but the fiery Spencer just landed as co-defensive coordinator at Duke.

Neil Rudel covers Penn State football and can be reached at nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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