Irish Eyes are Smiling

Bill O'Brien

O'Brien's Lions and O'Leary's Knights set to open the 2014 season at Croke Park in Dublin. Both coaches are excited about the trip.

Penn State will be in the third year of an NCAA-imposed four-year postseason ban in 2014. But that's not stopping the Nittany Lions from traveling to an exotic location during the season.

Sunday morning, the worst kept secret involving PSU football officially became public when it was announced that the Nittany Lions will open the 2014 campaign against UCF in Dublin, Ireland.

The game will be played at 69,000-seat Croke Park and has been dubbed the “Croke Park Classic.” Kickoff is set for 8:30 a.m. Eastern (1:30 p.m. local) Aug. 30 and ESPN2 will cover the action.

“Our players and coaches are so excited to go to Ireland and play a college football game in such an historic and outstanding venue,” Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said.

This will be the first time PSU has played in a foreign country in its 127-year history. The travel distance of about 3,500 miles will mark the second farthest the Lions have ever journeyed to a game, trailing only the trip to the 1983 Aloha Bowl in Hawaii (which was more than 4,500 miles).

Celebrating its centennial this year, Croke Park typically plays host to soccer, hurling and rugby matches. This will be the second American football game in the facility, as Notre Dame beat Navy at “Croker” in 1996. The Irish beat the Midshipmen in nearby Aviva Stadium season, and officials said the event pumped $130 million into the local economy.

UCF and Penn State square off at Beaver Stadium Sept. 14 this year. A source said the Knights will be the “home” team in next year's tilt in Dublin.

UCF is coached by George O'Leary, the former Georgia Tech coach. O'Brien was on O'Leary's staff with the Yellow Jackets from 1995-2001.

“I have great respect for Coach O'Leary and his team, and playing in Ireland will be a fantastic experience for all of the players, coaches and fans,” O'Brien said.

“On a personal level, obviously 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.

Penn State was previously scheduled to open the 2014 season against Temple at home Aug. 30. That game has been moved to Nov. 15, according to CSNPhilly.com.

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