Four of the eight neutral-site games the first week of the college football season involve Big Ten teams.
Though not all the sites are truly neutral, all the games will generate the exposure every coach craves for recruiting. Like bowl games, the openers also will produce lifelong memories for the players and varying financial rewards for the schools.
No team will travel farther than Penn State, which plays UCF Saturday in Dublin, Ireland, in James Franklin’s first game as coach. Also on Saturday, No. 14 Wisconsin meets No. 13 LSU in Houston and No. 5 Ohio State takes on Navy in Baltimore.
Rutgers plays its first game as a Big Ten member against Washington State in Seattle Thursday.
UCF won at Penn State and was supposed to host this year’s game before agreeing to move it to Dublin. Franklin said he sees no disadvantage to going overseas because both teams must contend with the time-zone change and other challenges that go with traveling abroad.
“We spent a lot of time preparing our guys on what to expect and what the trip is going to be like so we can get over there and stay focused on what we have to do, which is play good football,” Franklin said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches’ conference call with reporters. “Whether that was played at State College High School or played in Dublin, Ireland, we’re excited about the opportunity to play Central Florida.”
Penn State and UCF declined to disclose how much money the schools will receive. The game’s organizer, the Gaelic Athletic Association, didn’t respond to an email.
Wisconsin will earn $2 million for playing LSU at NRG Stadium in Houston. The Badgers will get another $3 million in 2016 when they play LSU at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. Next year Wisconsin will make $4 million for playing Alabama in Arlington, Texas.
“It gets us on the national stage,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said of this week’s game.
“We’re playing an SEC team and, quite frankly, we’re playing, traditionally the last few years, one of the best teams in the country, so kids like that when they’re recruited.”
The game is a measuring stick for a Wisconsin team that has questions at quarterback and receiver and must rebuild its defense.
“Some may say that’s not a great time to have the game,” Andersen said. “But if you’re going to play a game like this, in the environment of college football today, the first game of the year is the one to do it.”
Ohio State, which beat Navy in Columbus in 2009, will be closing out a two-game series with the Midshipmen. The Buckeyes will earn $850,000 for playing the game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, which is about a 45-minute drive from Navy’s campus in Annapolis.
Whether the game is in Annapolis or Baltimore, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer likes the recruiting implications.
“It’s a big recruiting area. A lot of great football players. A lot of history between Ohio State and those players,” Meyer said. “Really in the last two years we’ve done well out there, so it’s exciting, and hopefully we get a lot of exposure. We have to do well, though.”
Rutgers plays its first game as a Big Ten member against Washington State at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, which is less than five hours from the WSU campus in Pullman.
“I think it’s exciting for our players,” Knights coach Kyle Flood said. “I think they enjoy the experience of playing in a pro stadium, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s the reigning Super Bowl champions.”
Rutgers, which hosts the Cougars in Piscataway, New Jersey, next year, will earn $300,000 for Thursday’s game. Only 26,000 tickets have been sold. Flood said a good number of Rutgers fans plan to make the cross-country trip.
“But don’t think we’re going to have enough travel to make it a (true) neutral-site game,” he said.