CHICAGO — Bill O’Brien has visions of formations with two of his tailbacks on the field at the same time. For now, he’ll be happy to have two of them ready to go to start training camp.
Zach Zwinak (wrist injury) and Bill Belton (grades) have both been limited this summer in voluntary workouts, but the Penn State coach is optimistic both will be ready in August.
“Zwinak is number one (on the depth chart),” O’Brien said Thursday as Big Ten media days wrapped up. “And in talking to Zach — he stopped by the office the other day — he’s ahead of schedule. Which is a good sign.”
Zwinak injured his wrist in the Blue-White Game and has had to take things slowly this summer. O’Brien said he likely won’t be in full-contact drills right at the start of camp, which opens Aug. 5.
Belton’s focus on his summer classes meant he did not participate in events such as the team’s Lift For Life charity drive.
“Billy was struggling a little bit academically,” O’Brien said. “So what I did was, in the second summer session (of classes), I basically wanted him to concentrate on academics. So he would get his workouts in early in the morning or later at night, but the primary goal was to do well academically so that he could be eligible. And I believe he’s going to be eligible.
“I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill there. I think he’s going to be fine. He’s doing very well.”
O’Brien said the rest of the squad was in good shape academically. Starting receiver Brandon Moseby-Felder in particular has improved his standing.
“Felder was a guy who needed to have a good summer academically, and he has,” O’Brien said.
Changing ticket policies
Single-game tickets for Penn State’s home games this season will go on sale at 10 a.m. Tuesday. But fans looking just to see the Lions’ biggest opponents on the home schedule — Michigan and Nebraska — will have to pay more.
The prices for those games are the same as for any other game. But fans will be required to buy a ticket to the Eastern Michigan game for each Michigan ticket purchased. For the Nebraska game, fans will have to buy an equal number of tickets to the Kent State game.
“We looked at our peers,” Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said of the policy change. “They’re doing tier pricing. We didn’t do that yet. Who knows? We may do that some day. The Olympics do a lot of this.
“How do we stimulate and continue interest in our football games? How do we stimulate people to want to come to the stadium? It’s a new way of looking at it. A new way of marketing it.”
Joyner said the change was prompted in part by declining attendance brought on by the controversial STEP program as well as fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Penn State averaged 96,730 at seven home games in 2012, the lowest number since the stadium expanded to its current capacity of 107,282 in 2001. The average attendance has dropped every year since 2007.
“There have been concerns coming over the years,” Joyner said. “If you look at what’s going on across the country… We still averaged almost 97,000 last year, which was fifth. If you look at the curve that’s been going on the last seven or eight years at Beaver Stadium, it’s been a steady line down, which it has been across the country.
“You want to change that trend. The whole Big Ten wants to do that by offering a lot of incentives, interesting ticketing prices.”
The numbers game
Off the top of his head, O’Brien said he expects to have 66 scholarship players in camp. Penn State is still permitted to have the normal limit of 85 scholarships this season but must be down to 65 by next August because of NCAA sanctions.
The Nittany Lions total scholarship count for the upcoming season looks to be 68, which includes two players — Luke Graham and Anthony Stanko — who left the team but elected to stay at Penn State. Both will count against the team’s scholarship limit for as long as they remain enrolled at the school.
It may not be coming soon, but Penn State is working to add another former Eastern rival to the schedule.
CBS Sports reported Thursday that Penn State and West Virginia are negotiating a home-and-home series that likely would be played next decade.
The Big Ten will be expanding to a nine-game conference schedule before then, making non-conference games trickier to schedule. Penn State already has finalized a four-game series with old archrival Pitt that will begin in 2016. Any games against the Mountaineers would likely come after that.
West Virginia used to be a fixture on the Lions’ schedule, playing 59 times between 1904-92. The series ended when Penn State began Big Ten play in 1993. The Mountaineers are now in the Big 12.