This moment, being the end of the 2012 Penn State football season, seemed like a million miles away when the Jerry Sandusky Child Abuse scandal broke last year.
So many things have happened between then and now.
A legend is dead and his legacy most likely stained forever. Traditions have changed. The NCAA came down hard on the Nittany Lions, fining them 60 million dollars, banning them from postseason play for four years and limiting their scholarships to 15 a season. A new coach was hired to start a new era of football. Players have transferred and moved onto other programs.
Still, after all that, the Penn State Nittany Lions sit at 7-4, a far cry from what most sports analysts expected from Bill O'Brien and his staff when this year's unit was assembled.
It's been quite a ride for anybody that considers themselves a fan of the Nittany Lions. The preseason alone dealing with who was going and who was staying and who was decommitting was enough to drive a person clinically insane. A few players abandoned ship in hopes of greener pastures with two players especially coming to mind in Silas Redd and Justin Brown. Redd took his talents to Southern California, while Brown moved on to Oklahoma. I'm going to steal a line from music artist Big Sean, "The grass isn't always greener on the other side, it's green where you water it." That statement speaks for itself. Who knows where PSU would be with Redd and Brown on the roster, but in my opinion it doesn't really matter. The players that stuck around, especially the senior class make up a football team that should go down as one of the best ever to wear the blue and white. It's not surprising that Bill O'Brien agrees with me.
"It's hard to put into words, in my opinion, what this senior class means to this football program, to this athletic department and to this University," said O'Brien. "These are young guys that have been through a lot. They have been through a lot off the field. They have been through the death of their former head coach, a legendary coach. They have been through the things that went on off the field that don't need to be repeated, we just all know. They have hung tough, dealing with the NCAA and the sanctions that came out in the summertime. They've been through the fact that they had to lead this football team and keep these guys together. At the age of 21, 22, some of them 23 years old; that's pretty heavy stuff and you can't say enough about them. I think people have to understand within those walls over there at the football building these guys will always mean a lot to this football program. The other thing I would say is the first year of a new football program, a football program that is steeped in tradition and history and hundreds of wins and all those things, but we did things a little differently; it's new, a lot of things are new and they had to learn new things and lead it."
The Penn State football program is indeed new and no disrespect to the former coaching staff, but they are exciting. O'Brien's offensive attack is everything, but vanilla and if you don't believe me take a look at the numbers. For instance, Matt McGloin, a player that I will openly admit I've never supported as the starting quarterback has had the best season at QB in the history of the PSU program. He's broken all sorts of records, passing for 3,056 yards and 23 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Sophomore wideout Allen Robinson, who wasn't even a blip on the radar last season has caught 73 balls for 978 yards and 11 touchdowns. Robinson already owns the single-season reception record after this year's efforts and is going after single-season yards (1,084) and single-season touchdowns (13) both held by former All-American Bobby Engram.
O'Brien's influence on the team can not only be seen in statistics, but just in the overall morale of the players. That's good because with the Badgers coming to Beaver Stadium later today (3:30 p.m. ET ESPN 2) morale will have to be at an all-time high.
Unfortunately, this afternoon's game against Wisconsin will have to serve as a substitute for a bowl game and I believe there's a couple other important things riding on this ball game as well.
First off, the Nittany Lions will have to do their best to stop the Wisconsin rushing attack, which is really good. Montee Ball is having a quiet year compared to last season, but he's still rushed for over 1,400 yards and 17 touchdowns. James White has also played well this season averaging seven yards per carry, scoring eight touchdowns. Collectively, the Badgers rush for about 220 yards per game on the ground and the Nittany Lions give up 125 yards rushing per game. In order for Penn State to come out on top, stopping the Badgers rushing attack is vital.
The Wisconsin quarterback situation has been quite the circus this season with Curt Phillips, Danny O'Brien, and Joel Stave all seeing decent time. Danny O'Brien a transfer from Maryland was deemed the starter in August, but lost his job early in the season do to turnovers. Stave then took over and performed well, winning six of seven for the Badgers, but then broke his collarbone in late October. O'Brien took back the reigns, but was then beat out by Phillips. Needless to say, the Nittany Lions could see both Phillips and O'Brien later today.
The stage is set and the first year of PSU football under Bill O'Brien is coming to an end. A win against Wisconsin could really help the program out in many ways. I think there is still a lot of top recruits out there on the fence of whether or not to come to Penn State. I also think that they've seen what O'Brien has been able to do in one year and that he can really give guys a great chance at getting to the NFL. A win against the Badgers could put a stamp of honor back on this program and after everything that has happened over the last year that's exactly what needs to happen.