Bill O‚??Brien sighed at the mention of it. The Penn State coach said he didn‚??t realize Tuesday was his 43rd birthday until one of his older brothers texted him in the morning.
‚??I‚??m not a big birthday guy,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said at his weekly press conference before rattling off a list of things he doesn‚??t particularly enjoy.
‚??Birthdays. Weddings. Theme parks. The beach.‚?Ě
Holidays and puppies were spared for now.
No time for frivolity this week anyhow. Not with Ohio State coming into town for Saturday‚??s game at Beaver Stadium.
Add trying to solve the undefeated Buckeyes to the list.
‚??I can tell you Ohio State is the most talented team we‚??ve played to this point in the season,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??They‚??re an excellent football team. They‚??re 8-0. And they have very, very good players at every position.‚?Ě
Despite the fact that both teams are under NCAA sanctions and are banned from the postseason this year, the anticipation for the annual rivalry game is as high as ever. For O‚??Brien, his players and for fans as well.
Nittanyville ‚?? the student-populated tent town that springs up outside of Gate A to camp out at the stadium before big games ‚?? announced Monday night that it already had a record number of participants.
By Tuesday afternoon, the Nittanyville Coordination Committee listed the final count at 144 groups and 1,200 campers.
Attendance is very likely to break the 100,000 mark, a first for Penn State since last year‚??s home finale against Nebraska, just days after the Jerry Sandusky scandal exploded nationally.
O‚??Brien called the student support ‚??unbelievable.‚?Ě
‚??I‚??ll tell you what, I can‚??t say enough about our student body,‚?Ě he said. ‚??This is a special place. And one of the reasons why it‚??s a special place is because of the support of the student body. It gives our players a ton of energy.‚?Ě
Penn State‚??s injury list is down to one player ‚?? guard Mark Arcidiacono ‚?? as true freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman is back practicing after hurting his knee six weeks ago against Virginia.
‚??He‚??s going to be a really, really good player for us,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said of the Valley View grad. ‚??And a young guy that can run. Big guy. Can bend. Instinctive player. And so right now he‚??s still eligible to play. If we need him, he‚??ll play.‚?Ě
Linebacker Michael Mauti was asked Tuesday morning how he would respond to those who said before the season that the death penalty would be preferable to the sanctions imposed upon Penn State.
‚??Yeah, to me that‚??s pretty much a joke,‚?Ě Mauti said. ‚??That‚??s totally disrespectful, in my opinion. I don‚??t know who was giving those kind of opinions. Better to keep my mouth shut on that one.‚?Ě
Too late for one thing, though ‚?? Mauti‚??s adrenaline had started pumping.
And it was still going when he got his next question, asking if he had any sympathy or empathy for Ohio State players, who are also dealing with sanctions and a postseason ban.
Penn State‚??s penalties will carry through the 2017 season in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. The Buckeyes will sit out this year‚??s bowl season because players were judged to have received impermissible benefits.
‚??We‚??re kind of in the same boat. Their boat is a little different,‚?Ě Mauti said. ‚??(Penn State players) didn‚??t do anything to get our sanctions. That‚??s unrelated to the reasons behind our sanctions, in my opinion. But at the same time, we‚??re both not going to a bowl game. That‚??s similar.
‚??We didn‚??t do anything to go out and cheat.‚?Ě
As soon as he heard the word come out of his mouth, Mauti slammed on the brakes and threw ‚??er in reverse.
‚??I‚??m not saying they‚??re cheaters,‚?Ě he said, without missing a beat. ‚??They‚??re a great program. We have a lot of respect for them.‚?Ě
Now, which part of all of that is most likely to make its way to Columbus?
Mauti and Gerald Hodges have been named two of the 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award for the nation‚??s top linebacker. No Penn State players, however, made the cut for the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Award, one of many defensive player of the year honors.
Tight end Kyle Carter and defensive tackle Jordan Hill were named Big Ten Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week, respectively.