A most important Penn State football season is inching closer.

There's a little more than two months to debate
Joe Paterno's future, the starting quarterback dilemma,
the team's off-field problems, high school recruiting ...

And, arguably, the most intriguing thing about this season: the schedule.

Look closely at its makeup and rhythm, the lineup of opponents that seems to have the Nittany Lions built for success -- or for another thud to the middle of the Big Ten.

It is equal parts inviting and dangerous, especially considering all of the prime-time events.

Has there ever been one quite like it at Penn State?

It begins with five weeks almost perfectly crafted for a talented team that lacks senior leadership at key spots and should need some time to find itself.

There is the prerequisite breather (Coastal Carolina) followed by the needed home challenge (Oregon State) followed by the first road test (Syracuse).

All three are expected victories.

Then, a home game against Temple works well just before the evening party in Beaver Stadium against upstart Illinois. The crowd, the emotion of the night, should carry the Lions.

Time and place points to a 5-0 start.

Then comes the most memorable October on record.

The Lions play back-to-back road games against Purdue and Wisconsin, which are backed up against homecoming vs. Michigan and a trip to Columbus, Ohio.

What a stretch.

By the time the bye week hits on Nov.


1, the Lions will be either in the national title hunt or will be regrouping once again.

Playing at Purdue will be difficult as always, but there are no excuses for failing there. Same for breaking the curse against Michigan, particularly since the game will be played at Beaver Stadium, and the Wolverines could be shaky with a new coaching staff, a new offense and a new quarterback.

But 8 p.m. kickoffs in Madison and Columbus with the Wolverines in the middle?

It's difficult seeing the Lions winning at night in delirious Camp Randall Stadium or in Columbus, where they have lost all seven times since joining the Big Ten.

The key for Penn State and its own new quarterback will be damage control. A 3-1 October would be saluted, a 2-2 month very acceptable.

November is kinder with a bye, a road game at slumping Iowa and home games against Indiana and Michigan State.

A 10-2 regular season is there for the taking.

A third straight, disappointing 8-4 is quite possible, too.

And that's a world of difference - possibly the difference between a BCS game and the Alamo Bowl.

It's all up to how the Lions handle the schedule. The opening five games should provide enough time to solidify the quarterback position and provide answers at linebacker and throughout the secondary.

The problem is how these Lions have played on the road over the past several years. Usually, they are a tighter, offensive-impaired shell of themselves away from Beaver Stadium, particularly against quality opponents.

Such an approach will get them knocked around at

Wisconsin and Ohio State.

And it could even cost them at Purdue, which is the beginning of this make-or-break stretch in this make-or-break year.

Circle the calendars.

The schedule of a lifetime is inching closer.


Aug. 30  Coastal Carolina  TBA
Sept. 6  Oregon State  TBA
Sept. 13  at Syracuse  3:30 p.m.
Sept. 20  Temple  TBA
Sept. 27  Illinois  8 p.m.
Oct. 4  at Purdue  TBA
Oct. 11  at Wisconsin  8 p.m.
Oct. 18  Michigan  4:30 p.m.
Oct. 25  at Ohio State  8 p.m.
Nov. 8  at Iowa  TBA
Nov. 15  Indiana  TBA
Nov. 22  Michigan State  TBA

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2104 or