It's early September, so naturally we're thinking of Penn State basketball. That may be unusual for most Big Ten fans, but with the Nittany Lion basketball team having a decent shot at postseason play in 2015, there's more to be excited about than usual.
There's the 18-game slate starting on New Year's Eve in Madison. Penn State historically doesn't have a lot of success playing the Badgers on the road (just like everyone else), but the last time the Lions played at the Kohl Center, they were hanging with the Badgers until the end of the game in January 2013.
Things ease up a little bit from there with a road trip to nearby Rutgers and a home date with Michigan before the Lions play both Indiana schools, Michigan State and Rutgers again.
That's right, Penn State gets Rutgers twice. That's a good thing, because the Knights could be one of the only teams picked to finish below the Lions in the Big Ten standings this season. One of the other teams that prognosticators won't be high on is Northwestern, but Penn State only plays the Wildcats once this season.
In fact, there are eight other teams that Penn State will only play once. With 14 teams now in the conference and still just 18 games on the conference schedule, there are only four double plays on each school's slate. Along with Rutgers, Penn State will play Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Maryland twice each.
The Badgers are tough no matter how you slice it, but you can make cases for Maryland and Ohio State giving Penn State some added win potential. Both teams are expected to be competitive as usual this season, but the Buckeyes were defeated twice by the Lions in 2014, so turning the trick again isn't an impossible task.
The Terps are going to be tough as well, but at least their presence on the schedule cuts down on the travel time for Penn State. What used to be the Big Ten school located farthest to the east is now grouped nicely next to Maryland and Rutgers for a couple of close road games.
So that's the optimistic take on the Penn State conference schedule. Even though Pat Chambers has ramped up recruiting lately, the Lions are still going to be at a talent disadvantage compared to most of their opponents. However, with several returning players including potential star D.J. Newbill, things are looking up for Penn State.