Paul Tortorella has been around long enough to know that playing 11 games in a football season is usually better than playing 10.
But the way he sees it, the 2020 season is not one of those years.
Tortorella, IUP’s fourth-year head coach, said he might stand pat with the 10-game 2020 schedule handed to him by the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. In NCAA Division II, teams can play as many as 11 games in the regular season, so Tortorella — in theory — could find a non-conference team to open the season before getting into PSAC play.
But he isn’t sure that he will do that because what would come after is potentially the most difficult schedule IUP has had in decades.
“I don’t want to play only 10 games,” Tortorella said, “but if ever there was a year to do it, this is it.”
When it comes to earning a playoff spot, it had been a certainty that having an 11-game schedule was more beneficial because it allowed the opportunity for more wins. But in recent seasons, the NCAA seems to have swung toward a selection process that favors teams with the fewest regular-season losses, so it stands to reason that playing 10 games might now be a better idea than playing 11 — especially so considering who IUP is slated to play this fall.
After the Sept. 5 open week, IUP is scheduled to play not just the usual rugged PSAC West schedule (Slippery Rock, California, Clarion, Edinboro, Gannon, Mercyhurst and Seton Hill), but also the top three teams from the PSAC East in crossover games (Kutztown, Shepherd and West Chester, who went a combined 30-8 last year).
The Crimson Hawks’ 10 opponents on the 2020 schedule had a combined record of 66-51 last season. Slippery Rock, Kutztown, Shepherd and West Chester all earned playoff berths, and California was in the running until the final week.
IUP’s 2019 season ended at home with a 31-27 loss to Shepherd in the first round of the playoffs.
“Our strength of schedule with 10 games will be better than anybody’s with 11 games,” Tortorella said.
Because of that, if IUP were to play an extra game, Tortorella believes facing a good team won’t be much of a help — but it could be a huge roadblock to the playoffs.
“It does us no good,” he said. “If we lose, it’s going to kill us, and if we win, it really isn’t going to do that much because we still have a bunch of other tough games.”
The Crimson Hawks begin their PSAC schedule at Kutztown on Sept. 12 and then visit Shepherd the following week, so IUP’s first home game — as it stands right now —won’t be until Sept. 26, against Mercyhurst. So, if IUP is to add an 11th game to the schedule, it will have to be a home game, Tortorella said.
He has let the word out that he’s willing to explore an 11th game, and he’s had a few discussions with some teams, but none yet fit the bill.
“We’ve already got a strong strength of schedule,” Tortorella said, “so why add another game?”
ROSTER MOVES: Tortorella said two players have put their names in the NCAA Transfer Portal with plans of playing elsewhere: sophomore cornerback Obi Anyatonwu and senior long snapper Gunnar Royer.
Anyatonwu was a part-time starter in 2018, but he missed all of last year with a shoulder injury. Royer has been a backup for most of his career but was the starter the second half of last year after Drew Stout was injured against California.
Two other juniors, wide receiver Cam Turner and defensive back Donte Terry, are academically ineligible for spring drills, Tortorella said. But, he noted that both could be back in the fall “if they get things squared away.”
STILL IN THE WORKS: Last summer, wide receiver Irvin Charles had planned on transferring to IUP, but he was declared ineligible by the NCAA. Tortorella said Charles has returned to Penn State and is on track to graduate in May, which would allow him to come back to IUP as a graduate transfer in the fall and play his final season of college football.
“We hope to have him in the fall,” he said. “He’ll graduate and then he’ll be here.”