Step Into The Fire - It's Warm

Step Into The Fire - It's Warm

“With only 65 scholarships, Penn State cannot legitimately compete as an elite team neither in the Big Ten nor in the upper tier of college football on a larger scale. The inability to qualify for and play in a bowl game will turn recruits the other way,” writes National I. Columnist.

Yup, the ’ole college football beat writers who don’t actually know anything about specific situations but rather follow, endorse and further circumferencing rhetoric, change around a few words and make them their own. Gotta love it.

Newsflash, Holmes – pay attention.

Bill O’Brien is the second-best coach in the conference – give Urban Meyer his proper due until he proves otherwise – and has already proven his ability to attract top-level talent to State College. Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman, Chris Godwin and Troy Apke; the present, the future, the talent. This program lacked the ability to attract the cream of the crop during the (very) twilight of Joe Paterno’s tenure, mostly because of Paterno’s age. That’s a fact. The uncertainty surrounding Paterno’s successor – and his refusal to name one – was a devastating hindrance on the path of five-star prep players sending that fax in early February.

Bill OBrienNotwithstanding the ways and means by and through which O’Brien landed in Centre County, it is clear that LaVar Arrington wasn’t far off when he told those close to him in 1999 that if Tom Bradley was the head coach, State would field teams annually loaded with raw talent on par with any other team in the nation and compete for championships every year. In theory, it wasn’t Bradley specifically to which Arrington was referring but rather the next phase of life for Penn State Football beyond JoePa, whatever that meant. At that time, of course, Bradley was the only candidate that anybody even knew was…possible.

Well, here it is – life after Joe.

For those that truly understand what Penn State’s football program stands for, it’s hard to argue with the fact that O’Brien is the perfect man for this job. This job. Because this job is different than any other in major college football, and those that understand why don’t need to and probably can’t explain it tangibly. It just is. Every time O’Brien speaks publicly, he outdoes himself (in a positive manner) from the previous occurrence. This man, this 43-year-old Bostonian and graduate of Paterno’s alma mater, could not be a more perfect fit for this situation. He voluntarily walked into the biggest hellstorm that college sports have ever known, and/but nearly 18 months later, has steadied the ship better than Penn State fans could’ve expected.

Six months into his tenure, the NCAA handed O’Brien the biggest royal screw-job since Bret Hart in Montreal. For O’Brien, the sanctions were, of course, not self-inflicted, akin to/for Miami-Dade County taxpayers who bought Jeff Luria a new stadium and then watched him sell all the talent (with Mike – don’t call him Giancarlo – Stanton soon to follow). But what did O’Brien do? He started to fight, one day at a time.

There is plenty of room to not get too crazy; a very long hill to climb still exists in spades. The early returns, though, have been nothing less than excellent for State fans, who are forced to clench their teeth while they admit that the selection of O’Brien was an excellent one by Dave Joyner.

The issue at bar for the near future is how O’Brien can guide the Nittany Lions through the next two seasons because once the 2014 season is over, the other side of the bowl ban clock, which is the public’s (read: negative recruiting) biggest form of ammunition against O’Brien, will be in view. Unless the NCAA decides to waive that final year; don’t sleep on that. Just saying…

So taking one (of the next two seasons) at a time, what can Nittany Nation expect in the fall? If O’Brien’s second season resembles his inaugural attempt at sitting in the head cheese’s seat, expect a nine-win season with a chance for that total to reach double-digits. The non-conference schedule will produce four wins and if State can produce a 5-3 mark in league play (not the one in which Smokey reports a firearm infraction on Walter, although rumor is that O’Brien can roll a Turkey with the best of them), which would be one game worse than 2012, there’s your nine wins.

Under the previous regime, a first-year starter under center was not equipped jay paternowith the knowledge and/or tools to succeed at the highest level. Sure, Mike McQueary, Zack Mills and Daryll Clark were able to win games. But there’s a difference between succeeding and doing so at optimum efficiency. The ineptness of Rashard Casey in that opener against USC in 2000 – and that entire season – was, don’t forget, after he’d played 40 percent of the time one year prior. O’Brien is too smart and well-prepared to let that happen. Look at the improvement of Matt McGloin from 2010-11 to last season.

Whether O’Brien decides on Tyler Ferguson, Christian Hackenberg, or a combination thereof, said youngster(s) will be in so much better shape than prior targets that it’d be as laughable as comparing Dave Benfatti, Jr. to Shawn Lee. And that’s an egregious compliment to Benfatti, Jr.

Jay Paterno, Quarterbacks Coach/Co-Offensive Coordinator. Please, stop laughing. Yes it’s hysterically funny. Check that – it was hysterically funny. Do you honestly think that if O’Brien has the chance to step on Michigan State’s throat on the road inside the final minute of regulation that he’ll call the four ridiculous consecutive plays that the younger Paterno did in 2007?

It’s a completely different set of hands. On all fronts.

Penn State Practice tee 2013