The early college football teams representing the Pennsylvania State College did not have a head coach on record from the 1887 through 1891 seasons. The teams played its home games on the Old Main lawn on campus in State College, Pennsylvania.
The first recorded game occurred on November 12, 1881, when Penn State traveled to Lewisburg, PA to play Bucknell, known until 1896 as the University of Lewisburg. Penn State won 9–0, which was nine goals to none. At the time, this was really a game of "American rugby." The father of American football, Walter Camp, did not develop the "scrimmage," the "first down" and the "gridiron" (yard markings) until 1882. Although this game was reported in two State College newspapers and the Mirror (University of Lewisburg campus newspaper), Bucknell denies that this game ever happened. Penn State did not field teams from 1882 through 1886.
Despite the article title, the school did not adopt the Nittany Lion as its mascot until 1907. An early mascot was "Old Coaly," a mule that hauled stone for the original Old Main (completed in 1863 and demolished in 1929).
In 1891, the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Football Association (PIFA) was formed. It consisted of Bucknell (University of Lewisburg), Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Haverford, Penn State and Swarthmore. Lafayette and Lehigh were excluded because it was felt they would dominate the Association. Penn State won the championship with a 4–1–0 record. Bucknell's record was 3–1–1 (losing to Franklin & Marshall and tying Dickinson). The Association was dissolved prior to the 1892 season.
|1887 Penn State Nittany Lions football|
The 1887 Penn State Nittany Lions football team would become the school's first undefeated team, going 2–0, and the school's only unscored-upon team. The quarterback of this team was George H. "Lucy" Linsz (1887–1889). For whatever reason, Lucy Linsz only played for three years (only 1887 at quarterback). He later changed his last name from Linsz to Lins, probably during World War I. In 1887 Penn State's school colors were dark pink and black.
|November 5, 1887‡||at Bucknell||Lewisburg, PA||W 54–0|
|November 19, 1887||Bucknell||Old Main • State College, PA|| W 24–0
‡There is a date discrepancy. Bucknell lists this game as being played on November 12, 1887.
In stark contrast to the 1887 team, the 1888 team is the only winless team in Penn State history. Harry Leyden (1887–1889) played quarterback in 1888.