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Soft scheduling a common theme at Penn State

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Neil Rudel's column in Monday's Altoona Mirror is entitled "Schedule sold Lions short," and it explains how Penn State's soft nonconference schedule in men's basketball doomed the team on Selection Sunday.

Don't be shocked if a similar headline pops up on Dec. 6, the day when the BCS pairings are announced.

See, soft non-league scheduling is not only an issue with Penn State basketball, but with Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions football squad.

Penn State opens the 2009 football season with games against Akron, Syracuse and Temple, and rounds out non-league play Oct. 10 against Eastern Illinois. The slate will undoubtedly be ranked among the five weakest schedules for BCS teams, if not the weakest in the country.

As Rudel points out, nonconference scheduling is a much bigger factor in basketball than football.

Next year the football team will stuff Temple, Akron, Syracuse and Eastern Illinois down its fans' throats.

But the loyalists will still pack Beaver Stadium, and the bowl people, which value TV ratings and travel bases more than the NCAA Basketball Tournament does, won't care.

Penn State football and basketball are two different things playing by two different sets of rules. But their common denominator is the non-conference schedule.

Rudel is right, but non-league scheduling can hurt in football as well, especially when a spot in the BCS national championship game is at stake. Looking at Penn State's slate, it's highly likely that only an undefeated regular season will get the Lions to Pasadena on Jan. 7.

If the Lions run the table and they're the only FBS unbeaten, they'll play for the national title. But what if there's another undefeated team and several elite 1-loss squads from higher-rated conferences than the Big Ten? Would the BCS select Penn State over one-loss Florida, one-loss USC or one-loss Texas? Florida and Texas also play soft non-league slates, but not as poor as Penn State's.

The soft slate could come back to bite Paterno in December, just as it did Ed DeChellis on Sunday.

That Penn State-Alabama series in 2010-11 can't get here soon enough.