---- — By Tim Owen
For The Daily Item
STATE COLLEGE -- Emotions will be riding high in Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien knows that now. Last year, however, was a different story.
It will be Senior Day and prior to kickoff, 17 seniors will be introduced to the Penn State home fans for the final time. Nine of them have started a game this season and all have been vital pieces to the football program -- on and off the field.
In 2012, O'Brien knew graduation was all part of the college cycle. A senior moves on; the next underclassmen steps in. But after spending five seasons in the NFL, he almost became desensitized to the process.
Last year he was reminded. Playing the final game of your career, with your college teammates for the final time in that stadium, it makes for an emotionally charged day.
"I remember shaking their hands when they came out of the tunnel," O'Brien recalled. "The looks in their eyes. There are a lot of kids with emotions because they know that this is the last time they're going to play on that field."
Last year, facing Wisconsin, Penn State fell behind 14-7 early, before rallying to an overtime 24-21 Senior Day victory. O'Brien wants to avoid any late starts in 2013, and, ideally, any overtime periods. So he is formulating a plan in order to work out any jitters before kickoff.
"I think (the public address announcer will) introduce them, we'll go back in the locker room, get refocused on the game and what we have to do to win the game," O'Brien said. "At the end of the day, if you keep reminding them and keep them focused on what the keys to victory are, then I think that's what they focus on. But (Saturday) will be a little bit of an emotional time for them."
On Senior Day this year, Penn State will welcome Nebraska (7-3, 4-2 Big Ten) for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Cornhuskers are coming off a 41-28 loss to Michigan State last week, but otherwise have been one of the Big Ten's better teams. Averaging 35 points per game, Nebraska's is one of the top four highest-scoring offenses in the league.
Nebraska has won the last two consecutive meetings against Penn State, including their game Nov. 12, 2011. That was the first game after Joe Paterno was dismissed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. In all, Nebraska leads the series 8-7, but Penn State holds 5-2 record at home.
With a win over Nebraska Saturday, Penn State can clinch a winning record for the second complete season since the scandal broke — a feat few deemed possible after the NCAA sanctions were announced.
"Anytime you can have a winning season, I think it's important to help you going into the off"'season and things like that," O'Brien said. "No question about it. But I think the goal on Saturday is not about clinching a winning season, it's about going out there and doing everything we can against a really, really tough, good, Nebraska team and to help our seniors go out as winners. That's the big deal to me."