Penn State opens 2014 season with business trip to Ireland

UNIVERSITY PARK – The start of the season is different for every team.

Some schools tend to open up at home against directional schools or Football Championship Subdivision schools that have no business sharing the same field.

Some of these games are seen as free wins and a way to get the players reacclimated to life in major conference college football. Still others play in a “kickoff” game that pits them against another contender in a fellow BCS conference in a big city or special venue.

Penn State will do a combination of both when they travel outside the U.S. for the first time to Ireland to face defending American Athletic Conference champion and BCS bowl winner Central Florida.

“I think a lot of people are excited for where the game is being played,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “First game of the season every year, you are very excited. Especially with the new staff, you don’t know what to expect.”

They are playing a team that had a lot of success last season but has since lost two of its major pieces, including No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft, Blake Bortles, who broke out in UCF’s 34-31 win in State College last season.

The Nittany Lions will also begin the James Franklin era after the coach was brought in to replace Bill O’Brien, who is now with the Houston Texans.

Franklin, who is coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons that include bowl wins, returns to Pennsylvania where he began his playing career at Neshaminy High School and his coaching career at Kutztown University.

“No. 1, we’re going to play a game and so is Central Florida,” Franklin said. “This is not going to be a once in a lifetime experience. For us, it’s a business trip to go play a football game, no different than if we were playing at State College High School. We would be happy playing Central Florida anywhere.”

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous challenge,” Franklin said. “I know our guys are really excited. I’m a nervous wreck before games as far as preparation Sunday through basically the game. Once the game comes, I’m pretty confident because I know we’ve done everything we can to be prepared for the game. Now it’s an opportunity to go out and watch the kids play and have fun.”

The unique challenge for UCF is replacing Bortles as well as star tailback Storm Johnson, who scored three times in the Knights 52-42 win over Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.

Replacing him will be redshirt freshman quarterback Pete DiNovo, whom Penn State, conversely, will have to prepare for.

Franklin’s unfamiliarity with the Florida product is something that he and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop have to deal with.

“You can go back and watch his high school recruiting tape and things like that. Moreso than that, you are really studying the tape from last year. What are the things that they’ve done, what are their ‘bread and butter’ plays,” Franklin said.

“You know they are going to try to do things that can help him out, quick throws, screens to get the ball out of his hands,” the coach continued. “Those are the things that you can factor in when you don’t have game tape of that player in the offense. That’s why first games of the year can be a challenge.”

Central Florida does return with the bulk of its receiving core, losing just Jeff Godfrey from last year’s squad.

Those weapons include seniors Rannell Hall, Josh Reese, Jackie Williams and J.J. Worton, as well as junior Breshad Perriman. That group is something Franklin knows he and his coaching staff need to be concerned about.

“Their big-play wide receiver is No. 6, Rannell Hall,” Franklin said. “That’s the position that really jumps out to us on film, their wide receivers. They have tremendous depth and talent at that position.”

The Knights defense also is an experienced group and something that Franklin and Shoop have on their minds. UCF will return 15 starters from last season’s 12-1 team, including nine on the defensive end of the ball.

Franklin pointed to several defensive players that could cause problems for his offense.

“No. 41, linebacker Terrance Plummer, we think is a difference-maker for them,” Franklin said. “Safety, No. 26, Clayton Geathers, and cornerback No. 10, Jacoby Glenn, are the players that really jump out to us.”

Both Geathers and Glenn are on the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the best defensive back in the country.

“We’ve got to come prepared to play,” running back Bill Belton said. “That’s what we’ve been doing all camp. We’ve been doing what we have to do as an offense to get ready for that experienced group.”

For the Nittany Lions, the experience will be measured by one thing.

“For us, this is a business trip,” Hull said. “Winning is going to be the deciding factor whether this was a successful trip or not.”