Big Ten expansion: Penn State should pursue Thanksgiving weekend series with Rutgers

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State won't have a rivalry with Rutgers immediately, but could have a meaningful series over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Don't call it a rivalry.

Penn State is 22-2 all-time against Rutgers, so history has certainly done little to set up a good push-and-shove between the two schools once the Scarlet Knights begin play in the Big Ten. That's not to say the Nittany Lions can't build some animosity with their eastern neighbor in the future. But at this point, Penn State fans have little more reason to hate the league's newest member than they do Indiana, Purdue or Minnesota.

What Rutgers does offer Penn State is the chance to establish a season-ending series that fans can finally embrace.

The last week of Big Ten play is usually full of tradition-rooted rivalry clashes, from "The Game" between Ohio State and Michigan to the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket between Purdue and Indiana.

During most of its first two decades in the conference, Penn State's season-ending foe was Michigan State, a team it battled for the reviled beloved Land Grant Trophy. For many fans, it felt like a forced marriage. Geographically, the fan bases were never close enough to truly clash. And the series was so lopsided (13-5 for Penn State, including vacated wins) that the give-and-take never really established itself.

When Nebraska joined the Big Ten last season, Penn State's season-ending opponent switched to Leaders Division foe Wisconsin. The Badgers are 8-6 against the Lions all-time, so competitively, there's more there than there was with Michigan State. But the distance between the schools -- 11 hours, 42 minutes by car -- is prohibitive to either fan base being able to make regular road trips over the busy Thanksgiving weekend.

Enter Rutgers, its Piscataway, N.J. home field a mere four hours from State College, 1 hour, 22 minutes from the massive alumni population in and around Philadelphia and 50 minutes from New York City.

I can already see Penn State fans making a weekend of a regular Thanksgiving weekend trip there, checking out the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, cashing in on Black Friday shopping in Manhattan and then rooting for their Lions on Saturday before making an easy trip home Sunday. Or maybe it'd just be nice for fans to hop in a car and take a reasonable drive on Saturday. That way, they won't have to spend the entire Thanksgiving break traveling as they did to go to Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Happy Valley can't really offer Rutgers fans the same entertainment options, but the geography works in their favor, too, especially when you consider that the only other Big Ten school within an eight-hour drive is Maryland. This setup would also give them another fan base they can mix with. It sure beats closing out against Minnesota, right?

For these reasons, both schools should lobby hard to face each other at the end of the year. And who knows? If the Knights continue their upward trajectory, maybe an actual rivalry can form. There's certainly more potential than Penn State-Wisconsin or Rutgers-Minnesota. Both fan bases should hope the league schedule-makers can see that, too.

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