The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

August 28, 2012

Bill Bowman's column, on college football: Show time nigh for rookie PSU coach


Daily Item

---- — Now, I'll be the first to admit when Penn State hired Bill O'Brien back in January, I didn't know him from Adam.

Sure, I'd heard his name tossed around like everybody else, but I thought 'no way is Penn State going with someone no one knows.'

But since the day he walked onto campus, there is little doubt O'Brien has become the face of the university. That's probably not the best thing considering what happened to the last guy, but it had to be that way. For Penn State to ever start to move in any sort of direction forward, it had to do two things: Become the face of the child abuse awareness in Pennsylvania if not the country, and it's football coach had to lead the way out of the darkness.

Bill O'Brien has said and done everything absolutely perfectly since he got to State College, a nearly impossible task considering the smoldering pile of ash he walked into. But even before things got really bad -- when the NCAA slammed his program with crippling sanctions -- O'Brien knew he was in the middle of a temporary grace period.

Back in April, at an Associated Press workshop, someone asked the new PSU coach how he, an outsider who somehow scaled the 50-foot wall the powers-that-be built over the decades, had been received in Happy Valley. "The reception's been great..."

He knew there was a but.

"...but, we haven't played a game yet."

No doubt O'Brien has handled himself and his program impeccably over the last seven months. But his job, at its most basic, is to win football games and graduate players.

He knows that. When asked about it at media earlier this month, he simply said, "Winning, I mean, I respect the question, but winning is hugely important."

Saturday, the real bullets start flying when preseason MAC favorite Ohio comes to town. The Bobcats are experienced with 11 senior starters and junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton, who broke the school record for passing yards and accounted for nearly 40 TDs last year. Of the 22 starters the Bobcats will bring into Beaver Stadium on Saturday, 14 are returning and 19 of them are juniors or seniors. Penn State has six returning starters and one of them, linebacker Michael Mauti, is coming off his second ACL tear.

While Ohio isn't a BCS team coming to town in the opener, it's not Northwest Nowhere State either. Sports Illustrated picked it to go 12-0 and be a possible BCS buster.

So, it's not a tap-in is all I'm saying. O'Brien knows that, too. You can be sure his assistants and coaches know as well.

They also know that there is a lot riding on this season. Whether or not Penn State falls into football oblivion like SMU did or stays relevant like USC was able to during its NCAA sanctions depends on what happens in the next three months or so.

No pressure, right?

When asked if he thought he would be nervous Saturday morning, he quipped "do I look nervous?"

Since day one he has not. But it's a different sort of gig when you walk out the tunnel for the first time.

n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to bbowman@dailyitem.com or message him at twitter.com/williambbowman.