As I was leafing through published schedules, I started to get the impression that Penn State -- based on the opponents that were already publicizing their dates with the Nittany Lions -- was going to have a monster slate in 2013. As announced today, that suspicion is correct: Jeff Tambroni is going to run naked through the thicket with his team and hope for the best.
Last season, a year in which Penn State was just left out of the NCAA Tournament, played, based on opposing efficiency margins, the 11th-hardest schedule in the country; according to LaxPower's rankings, only seven teams had a harder set of games; the RPI, which is stupid people stupid-math, had the Lions' schedule as the 14th most difficult. Tambroni was not screwing around last season and it appears as if that's the case again going into 2013. To the breakdown!
14 Games, Just Five at Home
February 23: Notre Dame; March 2: Ohio State; March 23: St. Joseph's; April 6: Drexel; April 13: Towson
With two neutral site games this season -- a trip to Jacksonville, Florida, for the Moe's Southwest Grill Classic and a game at PPL Park that should draw the eyes of all of Pennsylvania lacrosse -- Penn State is stuck with just five games at their beautiful new lacrosse facility. It could be worse, though: The Nittany Lions will get their toughest non-conference game in State College -- against Notre Dame at the sunrise of the season -- and will draw Ohio State and its second-toughest conference game -- Drexel -- in the same venue. That isn't too bad. What makes this imbalanced home-road schedule so difficult is that Penn State will only have two back-to-back weekends (February 23-March 2 and April 6-April 13) where the team won't need to get on a bus or a plane or something to play. Otherwise, it's blocks of road/neutral games after blocks of road/neutral games. Speaking of which. . . .
Hard Stretches and Road Woes
February 17: v. Denver; February 23: Notre Dame; March 2: Ohio State; March 9: v. Lehigh; March 16: @ Massachusetts; March 26: @ Bucknell; March 30: @ Villanova
Good gracious. Over the course of five consecutive weeks -- following an early-season date with Michigan in Ann Arbor -- Penn State will play five teams that will, more likely than not, be ranked somewhere in the top-15 of the country. Of those five teams, three -- Denver, Notre Dame, and Lehigh -- are strong candidates for top-10 inclusion (if not higher depending on what team you look at). That is a brutal start to the season (not so much that Penn State is playing lots of teams that are expected to be solid (lots of clubs do that), it's when Penn State is playing them). As noted, Penn State will get two of those games at home, but otherwise the Nittany Lions are getting on buses or airplanes and hiking it all over the country. What really makes this stretch scary -- other than, you know, the opponents and travel and other nonsense concomitant with having an aneurysm and wanting to put this schedule together -- is that at the end of the stretch Penn State will need to play an important conference game against Drexel (at home) and will need to navigate a dangerous St. Joseph's team just before it plays Bucknell.
I'm not saying that Penn State will have played itself in or out of the NCAA Tournament by mid- to late-March, but they are really challenging themselves with the way this was put together.
Survive Until April
April 6: Drexel; April 13: Towson; April 20: @ Delaware; April 27: @ Hofstra
Just in case things go sideways for the Nittany Lions through late-February and March, the bulk of their conference schedule sits on the back-end of the year. Penn State will get "standings games" against Drexel at home and Hofstra to end the year; wins in those games should throw the Lions into the THUNDERDOME! Tournament without too much trouble. Sandwiched between are manageable games against Towson (at home, which should help) and Delaware. It isn't a breather to end the year by any stretch, but Penn State should have the opportunity to play its way into May with its closing slate.