The announcement today that Rutgers would play Penn State and Miami in the future was interesting enough on its own merits. RU's history and track record with both teams means that these aren't just your normal, run of the mill out of conference games. I wanted to talk a bit about the underlying storylines with both matchups.
All time, Rutgers is 2-22 against Penn State and 0-11 against Miami, and those records deservedly dominate any discussion of these games. Rutgers is not the Rutgers of twenty years ago or even five years ago, but it has been a relatively easy win for both teams in the past.
Rutgers and Penn State go far back, and the Rutgers athletic administration historically had a very close relationship with Joe Paterno. JoePa's Eastern All Sports conference never came to fruition, and the Nittany Lions ended up severing their old rivalries by joining the Big Ten nearly two decades ago. Rutgers and Penn State haven't met in football since 1995, when the Lions ran up the score against Rutgers at Giants Stadium, provoking a post-game confrontation between Paterno and Doug Graber.
Despite Paterno's friendships with Bob Mulcahy and Greg Schiano, Penn State was unwilling to play Rutgers in a home and home series until now. They have tremendous fan support, and can sell out their massive stadium against any opponent. Leaving everything else aside, it didn't make sense on the bottom line for them to play any road games. That, more than anything, is why this announcement came as a big surprise. I think, in the end, Paterno does have a soft spot for his former assistant Schiano, and maybe some nostalgia and regret at how the whole conference shuffle turned out.
That in turn, leads to two further avenues of speculation: that Rutgers/Penn State is either an "audition" for Rutgers possibly joining the Big Ten in the future, or that Paterno would like Schiano to be his eventual succesor in Happy Valley after he finally retires.
I don't care at all for the Big Ten, and my preference is for Rutgers to be in a financially viable and thriving Big East. Any support among the fanbase for jumping owes to economic anxiety. This is a topic I've discussed in the past, and will probably return to at some point this summer.
Joe Paterno has outlasted countless former successors, and has routinely made a mockery of the annual round of speculation about his future. He probably has every intention of squaring off against his former pupil, and it would be foolish at this point to bet against that.
When Paterno eventually retires, the overwhelming favorite to replace him on the sidelines is current PSU defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Their assistants have repeatedly assured their football recruits that the next head coach is currently on staff. Furthermore, speculation regarding Greg Schiano's future at Rutgers runs the gamut from laziness to fantasy. As long as Rutgers University supports its football program, he's not going anywhere. If by some chance this matchup can go a small way towards quelling these ridiculous rumors, that would be terrific.
Schiano also has history at Miami, but has already turned down the Hurricanes once already. Rather, any intrigue with the Hurricanes is more concerning their departure from the Big East to the ACC, where there's still some lingering resentment on both sides. Miami and Virginia Tech were upfront about their intentions during that period, and both are better geographic fits in the ACC.
In contrast, Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo pledged loyalty to the Big East while secretly negotiating with the ACC, and BC is located in freakin' Massachusetts. That's a good reason to never schedule BC again in any sport, and last year Mulcahy rejected their offer of a home and home series in football.
I also believe that FIU coach Mario Cristobal will be at the helm of Miami at some point in the near future. Rutgers fans still favorably recall his brief tenure on the banks. Any future matchup with the Hurricanes will have that additional plus.