There’s no question, this might be the end.
James Franklin has another message for Penn State and Pittsburgh, though: It doesn’t have to be over.
For the 100th time, the Nittany Lions and Panthers will meet Saturday afternoon, when they play at Beaver Stadium for the final game of the four-game renewal of the rivalry that started in 1893.
Both sides agree a series that dates back to the first Grover Cleveland administration will likely pause for the foreseeable future.
But Franklin said Tuesday during his weekly press conference that Penn State remains open to renewing an on-field battle with Pitt under the right circumstances for both schools.
As things stand, the Nittany Lions’ nonconference schedules are full through the 2023 season, and they have room for just one game in the 2024, 2025 and 2027 seasons.
Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour has said it might be more than a decade before the rivalry could renew again.
“I think we have to be creative in the ways that we look at it,” Franklin said.
The issue for Penn State, Franklin said, is that Big Ten teams play nine conference games, leaving room for just three nonconference opponents.
Atlantic Coast Conference teams, like the Panthers, play four nonconference games per year.
That makes it more difficult for Penn State to schedule home-and-home series, given that it would make no financial sense to wind up with a pair of nonconference road games in the same season.
“I can see us possibly doing a neutral-site game with them,” Franklin said. “We can have discussions. The challenge is with us having nine conference games and them having eight, there are some problems with the home-and-home.
But, we’re open. We’re open to having discussions. But it has to equally make sense for both parties.”
Last month, little-used safety John Petrishen left the Penn State program as a graduate transfer and joined Pittsburgh, hoping to wind down his college career back in his hometown.
At that point, the Nittany Lions decided they could take no chances that Petrishen’s current loyalties wouldn’t overwhelm his past ones.
“When that happened, we knew that we were going to have to make some changes. Obviously, we had to change all of our signals, on defense and on offense as well. But, especially on defense. Because he knows all of our signals.”
Petrishen likely won’t play Saturday, as he is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. But Franklin said it was imperative to get to work on changing the signals as early in the process as possible and not wait until the third week of the season to switch it up just for Pittsburgh.
“If we would have waited until this week, it would have been problematic,” he said. “To think you’re going to be able to change your signals in a week, it’s not going to happen. We’ve had plenty of time to get it done, and now our guys are comfortable.”
Penn State’s next two home games are scheduled to start at noon — Saturday against Pitt and Oct. 5 against Purdue — and Franklin said that’s a start time that’s getting less convenient for the Lions.
“I think the ideal situation for us, for college football, for the Big Ten, for this town, is to have as many 3:30 games and 7 o’clock games as possible,” he said. “It just makes it easier for people to get here. ... With recruiting, kids come, parents come, high school parents come, they feel the electricity in the stadium. People want to be a part of that. People want to be a part of this fan base and this community. All those things factor in.”
The Pitt game is expected to be a destination for top recruits, and several have already committed to being at the stadium for the game as Penn State’s guests.
Buffalo punter Evan Finegan, who fractured his tibia and fibula in the third quarter of Saturday’s game when his right leg collided with Penn State’s Journey Brown during a punt, tweeted Tuesday he was discharged from Mount Nittany Medical Center. He’ll be returning home to Buffalo to continue his rehab.
On his Twitter account, Finegan thanked the Penn State community for “taking me in as their own” and posted several pictures of Nittany Lions specialists like punter Blake Gillikin and kickers Rafael Checa and Vlad Hilling visiting him.
“You never want to see that happen in college football or, really, any sports,” Franklin said. “He seems to be doing well and is in good spirits. We wish him and his family nothing but the best.”