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When Penn football has played Princeton in recent years, the result has usually been epic. Now, that historic rivalry game is moving to the final week of the season, adding even further energy.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Finishing with four consecutive victories, Penn football was rolling at the end of the 2017 season. And now, the time to look ahead to 2018 is officially here.

On Tuesday, Penn Athletics released the team’s 2018 schedule, giving the Quakers concrete dates and opponents to look forward to as they seek to respond from last season’s disappointing fourth-place finish. Penn will play ten total games and seven conference games, as always, but its last two contests undeniably stand out as the most notable.

The team’s rivalry game against Princeton — one that has produced instant classics in epic Homecoming games in both 2015 and 2017 — has been moved to the final weekend of the season, part of a newfound effort by the Ivy League to move every team’s top rivalry game to its last contest of the year from 2018 onward.

As such, as meaningful as Penn-Princeton has been before, the intensity could get ramped up even further — either school, if not both simultaneously, could be playing with the chance to clinch an Ivy League title by beating the other. To account for this, the Penn-Cornell game (which had been Penn’s final game in every year since 1987) has been moved to Week Eight, filling where Penn-Princeton used to be.

"The final weekend of Ivy League play will have a rivalry feel to it across the League," coach Ray Priore said in the press release. "I know our players and fans will enjoy the anticipation and excitement of playing Princeton the final week of the season. At the same time, I am glad that our storied series with Cornell – the fifth-most played series in all of college football – will have an important place on our home schedule every other year as part of Homecoming Weekend on campus."

The scheduling tweak means that Penn-Princeton will no longer be on Homecoming (as Penn’s Homecoming never falls on the final game of the regular season), but Penn’s 2018 Homecoming won’t exactly be short of excitement. In the team’s ninth game of the year, the Quakers will be hosting Harvard, which will mark the first time in 18 years that the Crimson have played during Penn’s Homecoming.

Though both schools underwhelmed relative to their lofty standards in 2017, at least one of the two teams had won shares of the Ivy League title in each of the prior ten seasons, meaning that the November 10 showdown between the two is likely to have major title implications.

Outside of the Ivy League, Penn’s non-conference schedule will also see some big changes. Penn will continue to play defending Patriot League champion Lehigh, as it has in each of Priore’s first three seasons, including this historic shootout win in 2017. But in their other two non-league games, the Quakers will be taking on Bucknell for the first time since 2010 and Sacred Heart for the first time ever.

According to the NCAA’s Simple Rating System (SRS), Penn finished 2017 ranked 43rd in the FCS, compared to Lehigh’s 76th, Sacred Heart’s 87th and Bucknell’s 99th.

"We are excited about our non-League schedule this coming season," Priore said. “The four consecutive wins to finish the season has everyone energized and confident we can carry that momentum over to 2018."

As for what Penn itself will look like, its collection of returning talent certainly gives cause for optimism. Though the offense will graduate six starters, including running back Tre Solomon and first-team all-everything wideout Justin Watson, Penn will return an impressive 10 starters on defense if stars Colton Moskal and Louis Vecchio choose to return for their fifth years, as is expected. If Moskal and Vecchio do return, Penn’s nine returning All-Ivy selections will be the most in the league.

Thus, Penn seems primed to get back in the Ivy title hunt after missing out on the championship for the first time in three years. Fans and players alike can mark their calendars — it’s almost time for redemption.

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