Hitting the road: Penn State's schedule is loaded

After a scintillating run through the Big Ten last season and a Big Ten Championship, the expectations for the 2017 Penn State Nittany Lions are already through the roof.

Led by their Heisman Trophy contender running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley, the Nittany Lions are poised to make another run at the Big Ten Championship Game and the College Football Playoff. Last season, Penn State’s only two losses in its magical regular season came on the road, and they fell just shy of a spot in the four-team playoff.

This season, the Nittany Lions have five away games, and each away game gives Penn State fans and alumni a chance to see different parts of the country. And whether you decide to go to Columbus, Iowa City or College Park, each Penn State away trip is vacation time well spent!

Here’s a closer look at all of the 2017 Penn State away games:

Sept. 23 — at Iowa Hawkeyes

Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa

Connect with PSU Alumni in Iowa: facebook.com/PSUiowa

The Iowa Hawkeyes have been a regular thorn in the side of the Nittany Lions, but Penn State has won the past three meetings, including a 41-14 blowout last November at Beaver Stadium. The Hawkeyes have won five of the past six meetings in Iowa City — including a last-second 24-23 upset of then No. 3 Penn State in 2008.

If you need another reason to go: No one likes a 12-hour drive — especially when over 11 hours are on I-80 — but with great food and a lot of history, Iowa City is a fun college town to visit. For the history buffs, the area is home to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum and the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History. However, for the rest of us looking for more of a tailgate party, check out the Iowa City Brewlab, which brews small batches of artisan craft beers and experiments with beer varieties, brewing techniques, and ingredients.

Oct. 7 — at Northwestern Wildcats

Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.

Connect with PSU Alumni near Chicago: psuchicago.org

The Northwestern Wildcats are the only team on Penn State’s away schedule that it did not play last year. The Nittany Lions will look to exact revenge for Northwestern’s consecutive wins in 2014 and 2015. The Wildcats are one of only three Big Ten teams that the Nittany Lions have yet to defeat under Head Coach James Franklin — and they will have a chance to beat the other two, Michigan and Nebraska, at home this season.

If you need another reason to go: Located only 15 miles north of Chicago, the Northwestern game gives Penn State fans the best opportunity to hop on a plane and catch the game without too much driving. While Northwestern is located in a great town, the real fun is in Chicago, where you may be able to catch a Cubs playoff game or stay an extra day and catch the Bears and Vikings on Monday Night Football. And no trip to Chicago would be complete without a stop at Geno’s East for a deep-dish pizza.

Oct. 28 — at Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Connect with PSU Alumni in Columbus: facebook.com/psucolumbus

Both literally and figuratively, if Penn State wants to return to Indianapolis to defend its Big Ten Championship, the Nittany Lions have to go through Columbus. Since the year 2000, Ohio State has defeated the Nittany Lions 12 times, and the Nittany Lions have only won in Columbus three times in the past 50 years. Last season, Penn State shocked the college football world with a dramatic 24-21 victory over #2 Ohio State thanks to a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown by Grant Haley with under five minutes left in the game — giving the Buckeyes their only regular season loss and costing them a spot in the Big Ten Championship.

If you need another reason to go:  All Penn State fans should make the trip to “The Horseshoe” at least once. It is an unbelievable atmosphere and only a five-hour ride from Happy Valley. While you are in Columbus, make sure to check out the Thurman Café for their famous burgers and Schmidt’s for authentic German sausage — both were featured on Man vs. Food. If you’re really hungry, see if you can tackle the enormous Thurmanator Burger — allegedly the largest burger in Ohio.

Nov. 4 — at Michigan State Spartans

Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

Connect with PSU Alumni in East Lansing: facebook.com/psuofmichigan

Last season in the battle for the Land Grant Trophy, Trace McSorley’s four second-half touchdown passes erased a two-point halftime deficit en route to a dominating, 45-12 victory — setting all of Happy Valley into a massive celebration as the win over the visiting Michigan State Spartans clinched the Big Ten East Division Championship and a spot in the Big Ten Championship game. The Spartans hope to bounce back after a down year and are always tough to beat in East Lansing.

If you need another reason to go: If you’re into good food, fantastic beer and great music, you’ll definitely want to pay a visit to HopCat while you are in East Lansing. Less than a mile from Spartan Stadium, HopCat has 100 beers on tap, and Food Network Magazine named HopCat’s “Crack Fries” among America’s top 10 best French fries.

Nov. 25 — at Maryland Terrapins

Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium, College Park, Md.

Connect with PSU Alumni in Maryland: psuwashdc.org

The shortest away game trip in the 2017 season is the three-and-a-half-hour ride down to College Park to visit the Maryland Terrapins. The Terrapins have only beaten the Nittany Lions twice in 40 tries; however, since joining the Big Ten in 2014, they have always played Penn State tough. Last year, the Nittany Lions really didn’t start to click until the Maryland game in early October. Led by Saquon Barkley’s 202 rushing yards, the Nittany Lions beat up on the Terps, 38-14.

If you need another reason to go: Located only 15 miles from Washington, D.C. and less than 40 minutes from Baltimore, a trip to College Park could make for a great weekend trip on Thanksgiving weekend. There are countless historical sites to visit in Washington, D.C. and in Baltimore, but if you want to try your luck, you can visit the brand-new MGM National Harbor casino on the Potomac River or the Horseshoe Casino around the corner from Camden Yards. Both casinos and resorts feature countless restaurants, bars and thousands of casino games.

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