The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 27, 2013

College football: Final game of year two of O'Brien era

Daily Item

---- — By Tim Owen

For The Daily Item

STATE COLLEGE -- Year two of the Bill O'Brien era at Penn State is one game from its conclusion.

After an 8-4 inaugural season, which was bookended by several coach of the year honors, O'Brien and his Nittany Lions sit at 6-5 heading into their 2013 season finale at No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 7-1 Big Ten). A win grants Penn State a formidable 7-5 record, something O'Brien acknowledges as a morale boost heading into off-season workouts and recruiting trips.

"Obviously you are what your record says you are," O'Brien said at his final regular-season press conference Tuesday. "So we're a 6"'5 team, barely above .500 with a chance to be 7"'5 or 6"'6. Certainly the season has had its ups and downs. It hasn't been a consistent season, but I do think there's been a lot of positives."

A win at Camp Randall Stadium could be the biggest positive. O'Brien said he and his assistants will hit the road next Monday to recruit. Most recently Penn State landed a verbal commitment from junior college defensive lineman Tarow Barney after his official visit last weekend, according to Blue White Illustrated's Ryan Snyder.

Barney, a Class of 2014 prospect who will have three years to play two, fills an immediate need since both of Penn State's starting defensive tackles will play their final game Saturday.

O'Brien said he is pleased with the current state of his football program, but he said the future should be even brighter. He hopes to secure more prospects on the recruiting trail. A win against the Badgers should only help that cause.

"We feel good about the '14 class, and we feel good about the '15 class," O'Brien explained. "You're always trying to stay one step ahead, so we're recruiting hard with the 2015 class."

But he's especially encouraged by the core group of players who return next year.

"We've got a bunch of guys on this (current) football team that gained a lot of experience this year, which I think will really help them," said O'Brien. "Some guys were playing college football for the first time, like Geno Lewis, who redshirted last year. Jordan Lucas didn't play a lot for us during his first year. Now he's one of our better players. We have a lot of veteran players who have played a lot of football for us and are coming back next year. We feel really, really good about (them).

"Look, I'm not going to get into predictions or anything like that. But, with the two"'year sanctions that we've been under and things like that -- with the limited amount of (scholarships) we could offer and guys who have left the program -- I think our program stands on pretty solid ground right now."

n Wisconsin

Wisconsin rarely loses at home. Over the past four seasons, it has gone 25-2 at Camp Randall. Plus, each of its most recent 15 victories have come by a double-digit margin. Therefore the Badgers are favored by more than three touchdowns against the Nittany Lions.

O'Brien doesn't pay much mind to point spreads and said he doesn't use them as a motivation tool.

"I'm aware that we're probably an underdog," he said. "We're 6"'5, and they're 9"'2, but I didn't know it was a (23-point) underdog. Now, if somebody from Wisconsin came out and said we're going to beat these guys by 24 points, then maybe we'd use that. But certainly not from Vegas."

n Brandon Smith

Brandon Smith, a 2013 graduate of Lewisburg High School, is listed on Penn State's official depth chart as the second-string fullback behind only senior Pat Zerbe.

Smith walked on with the Nittany Lions in the summer and originally began his college career as a linebacker. He first appeared on the depth chart at fullback before Penn State's game with Nebraska last week. O'Brien has yet to comment on Smith's position change.