After a perfect record in the non-conference games and a subsequent bye week, this team will improve to 5-0 after a win at Indiana. Then, on October 12 (throat clear), the Michigan Wolverines will pay a visit to Centre County and serve as the opponent for Penn State’s homecoming game.
Lloyd Carr owned Paterno. Paterno (actually Tom Bradley and Daryll Clark by that point) owned Rich Rodriguez. Now, a new chapter begins between O’Brien and Brady Hoke. Michigan is pretty talented, but no more so than the Nittany Lions. Expect a loud crowd and a narrow win for the home team as O’Brien maintains a perfect mark through mid-October.
Following the second bye week, the Lions will suffer their first loss of 2013 in Columbus. Braxton Miller is that good, Urban Meyer is that good, Ohio State is that good, and Ohio State is that good at home. There will be a point in time when O’Brien wins this game, but not this season against this quarterback. If you want to watch the best player in college football this season, tune in to the Buckeyes on a regular basis and watch their signal-caller.
The anger factor for the ensuing week will be remedied perfectly for O’Brien – almost as if the schedulers planned it that way – when his favorite colleague Tim Beckman and the Illini roll into town. Illinois is terrible. It’ll be a romp and a bit of payback for the elder Lions who were on the squad in 2010 when Illinois embarrassed Penn State at Beaver Stadium.
If ever a quintessential trap game existed, the contest at Minnesota on November 9 is it. State will fly to Minneapolis with a 7-1 record and expect to pounce on a conference bottom-feeder from the other division. If Paterno was still the head coach, this trap game would be a certain loss. But O’Brien proved – albeit in just one season – that he can win conference road games and a slim margin of victory will still be a victory as Penn State will avoid the trap.
Following a home victory over Purdue the next week, O’Brien will enter the final two weeks with a 9-1 record. Penn State fans would like to think that a win over Nebraska at home is in the cards, particularly after the botched call by the officials in Lincoln last November, but it’ll be tough. The student section will be a bit quieter due to the Thanksgiving holiday and the dual threat posed by Taylor Martinez – who is entering his 19thseason with the Cornhuskers – will likely be too much for a (by that point) injury-plagued and exhausted defense. Nebraska is just so physically tough.
This is the game in which the scholarship limits prove too much to handle.
Finally, a trip to Madison to conclude the campaign and the first look up close at Gary Andersen, who’ll struggle to outsmart O’Brien. Of course, because there will be no bowl game, it’ll be the final contest of the season for Penn State, a factor which can obviously be motivating, especially for the seniors. That combined with the fact that because Wisconsin’s schedule is laughable, the Badgers will probably be the most overrated one-loss team in the nation.
So after a solid road win is added to the tally, the total comes out to 10 wins, 2 losses.
UNSUNG HERO: Without question, the positive difference that strength coach Craig Fitzgerald has already made and will continue to make for this program. That should not be underestimated in any capacity.
BEST TRUE FRESHMAN NOT NAMED HACKENBERG: Brandon Bell is the obvious choice here, but the fact that his playing time is contingent on an injury makes him ineligible. So the award goes to Adam Breneman. Despite the dominance of Kyle Carter and Jesse James, Breneman will surely get his chances and won’t disappoint. The kid is a stud.
SURPRISE PLAYER: Miles Dieffenbach will be overshadowed, and rightly so, by budding all-world tackle Donovan Smith, but the ground game will be aided greatly by Dieffenbach’s textbook push/run-blocking technique. If you re-watch the games this year a second time after the fact, take a peek at the junior guard during running plays. He’s quite good.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: A preemptive caveat is required: this award usually means that a player was fairly terrible the prior season and has been bumped up to satisfactory status. But Trevor Williams’ play this season at cornerback will be strong enough to the point at which it’d be hard to not recognize him in some fashion. Any time a position change occurs and the move is such a tight fit immediately, good things will follow.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER – Allen Robinson has an enormous amount of unrealized potential. That will be cured this season and will likely lead to an early departure for the NFL. He has the height (6’3”), leaping ability, speed and hands of a Sunday-ready wide receiver.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER – While Glenn Carson is surely the leader of the 2013 defense, the best player will be Deion Barnes. Look for Barnes to net a double-digit sack total, tackles-for-losses that frustrate the heck out of opposing offensive line coaches and an overall consistent presence in backfields. And he’s merely a sophomore.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER – Despite his penchant for the vertical passing game and a very productive one at that, the genius of O’Brien is that he completely understands the fact that in order to succeed in this conference (and in football in general), a balanced attack is a must and that starts with a strong running game. For this reason and for his skill set of finding holes and darting through them, Zach Zwinak will be Penn State’s most valuable player in 2013.