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Chris Graham: An early look at Penn State-UVa.

UVa. fans were understandably excited when the 2012 football schedule was released a few months ago and Penn State was listed as one of the nonconference home games for the upcoming season.

UVa. and Penn State have played an off-and-on series dating back to at least the 1980s, from my memory.

(The record book says the teams first met in 1893. I don’t remember that far back. They’ve played seven games in the intervening 109 years. I think my characterization of “off-and-on” series is probably apt.)

Ahem. This will be the first game in the series in a while (1893?) in which Joe Paterno won’t be roaming the Nittany Lion sidelines.

It is of course hard to fathom the sudden fall from grace that we’ve seen with Paterno in recent weeks and months.

Just as hard to fathom is the freefall that is being projected for Penn State football, which last year came out of the gate with a 7-1 record, stumbled to a 9-4 finish, seemed to be in position talent-wise to compete in the rugged Big Ten, all of that before the hammer of the NCAA came swinging down at them.

First-year coach Bill O’Brien might want to wring out what he can from the 2012 Nittany Lions, given the weight of the sanctions that have been imposed on his program. It truly is all downhill from here, as the reduction in scholarships and bowl-game bans encompassing the next several years will push Penn State to de facto I-AA status.

But that’s next year and beyond. As long as O’Brien is able to keep the core of the 2011 team intact, and it’s looking like he will, by and large, this team can have some success in 2012.

The game at UVa. on Sept. 8 will be Penn State’s first road test, in more ways than one. UVa. is coming off a surprising 8-5 bounceback season in 2011 and is projected to be a contender for the ACC Coastal Division title in 2012, so the on-the-field part of the visit will be a challenge for Penn State.

UVa. fans will also get the chance to set the tone for how Penn State football will be treated on road trips in 2012.

There are plenty of people across the country who think strongly that Penn State should discontinue its football program in the wake of the unspeakable abuses perpetrated by long-time former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on young boys that he met through his Second Mile charity.

Penn State games – home and away – will no doubt serve as linchpins for those who want to express their displeasure with the decision of the school administration to continue on with football in the wake of the Sandusky horrors.

I would hope that most of it would be positive – maybe groups at schools hosting Penn State could schedule candlelight vigils for the victims of Sandusky and child-sexual-abuse victims everywhere, or maybe even ask, or demand, that their schools direct a portion of gate proceeds to programs offering support to victims.

How fans in the stadium wil react on Saturdays will be interesting, again especially on the road. Home fans make it a point to greet their road visitors with a fusillade of boos. Those boos in question are usually about football, and die down once the game gets going as the focus shifts to reacting to what is taking place on the field.

Does that happen with Penn State in 2012? Does the booing continue throughout as fans express their feelings on something that reminds us that football is just a game?

Or … do we see fans in noticeable numbers boycott their school’s home games with Penn State to send an even stronger message?

All interesting points to ponder as we look ahead to Sept. 8.

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