NJ.com- I connected with Bob Flounders, who covers Penn State for PennLive.com, for a Q&A on the Nittany Lions.
Q: The Penn State side was mostly dismissive of the possibility of a Rutgers rivalry leading up to last season's matchup. Did the close game change anything? What do you expect the atmosphere to be like at Beaver Stadium for that prime-time matchup?
A: I don't believe the Penn State program views Rutgers as a rival and I know the fan base does not. Pittsburgh is the Lions' true rival and the Panthers are coming back on the schedule in a few years. The fact is, PSU hasn't really had a true rival in the Big Ten since it joined the conference. The prime-time atmosphere will be better than the one at Rutgers just because the size of the crowd.
One would think this statement would upset a die hard Rutgers fan like myself. That Penn State's refusal to acknowledge Rutgers as a geographical rival and a Big Ten peer would anger those that have supported the program as it's risen to relative prominence. Alas, it does not. Not because I don't think Rutgers has the talent or the draw of Penn State, but simply because Penn State admitting that Rutgers is their equal would be admitting failure. Admitting that Rutgers, once a Division 1 afterthought, is now a middle of the pack Big 10 team is an admission that Penn State has not only failed to progress, but has actually regressed from the traditional college football power that they used to be. First year in a Power 5 Conference, with only a single season of B1G recruiting under their belt, and Rutgers has already finished with a better record than Penn State. Hell, the only thing that even kept Penn State within sniffing distance in the standings was a historically bad performance from Rutgers' quarterback in their head to head matchup.
However, leave it to the cult members at Penn State to ignore the obvious. Sure, two schools that are within such a close proximity, constantly compete for players, and now play each other on an annual basis aren't rivals. Probably the same way a kiddy touching ring taking place under the watchful eye of Joe Paterno isn't his responsibility. Whatever you guys say. I'm sure after enough cups of Kool-Aid anything can sound reasonable. Shit, even Hitler had followers. If ISIS can consider their actions logical than why can't Penn State continue to ignore their diminishing place amongst the landscape of college football?
I'm not saying Rutgers is a better program than Penn State, but I am saying it's a lot closer than it used to be, and that speaks volumes of which direction the two schools are trending in. We may not be Penn State's rival in their eyes, but we are absolutely legitimate competition, whether they choose to accept that or not.