Finally, Penn State officially has its “bowl game” for the 2014 season.
We figured for months now that the Nittany Lions would open the 2014 season in Ireland in light of NCAA sanctions that prohibited them from going to a bowl game at the end of the season.
Then it became clear that the opponent would be Central Florida and head coach George O’Leary — a mentor and good friend of Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.
And this past week we learned that the deal had been finalized.
But it wasn’t announced officially until Sunday, and there were a few new details to learn:
First, we now know that the game on Aug. 30 in Dublin will be called the Croke Park Classic because it’s being played in historic Croke Park, the headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
We also know that Croke is pronounced “Crow” (thanks to Penn State sports information) and that the 83,000-seat stadium is being scaled back to hold only 69,000 for the game — the first international contest ever for either Penn State or UCF.
The game will begin at 1:30 p.m. in Dublin (8:30 a.m. on the East Coast) and will be televised by ESPN2.
Also unveiled was that the Penn State game originally scheduled for Aug. 30, against Temple, has been moved to an open date on Nov. 15, 2014. The Lions will return from Ireland to play Akron at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 6 before opening the Big Ten season at Rutgers the following Saturday.
The Penn State Alumni Association and the Nittany Lion Club will offer travel packages for fans planning to attend the game in Dublin.
It is uncertain why the game will be played at 100-year-old Croke Park (renovated a decade ago) rather than the new Aviva Stadium that featured the Notre Dame and Navy game this past season. Aviva does hold only about 50,000 fans, so we’re guessing Penn State and Central Florida officials believe they could draw far more fans overseas.
Notre Dame and Navy combined to bring an estimated 35,000 fans to Ireland.
There’s also this note: The Penn State and UCF matchup will feature the first Big Ten team to play internationally since Michigan State and Navy met in Tokyo in 1993.
Of course, here is something we already were quite aware of: “Coach O’Brien and I are both of Irish heritage, so it means a great deal to both of us to be in a position to bring our teams here,” O’Leary said.