This one wasn‚??t really up for debate.
‚??Northwestern coming in here is the best team that we‚??ve faced,‚?Ě Bill O‚??Brien said of Saturday‚??s opponent. ‚??(They‚??ve) done an excellent job there of just putting an excellent team together, an undefeated team.
‚??We‚??ve got a huge challenge ahead of us on Saturday.‚?Ě
No doubt. The Wildcats are 5-0. They‚??re ranked No. 24 in the country. They broke a school record by topping 700 yards of offense over the weekend in a win against Indiana.
So to start the week off, the Penn State coach pleaded with the student body at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, asking them to get in the stands early for the start of the game.
‚??This is a noon kickoff, and it‚??s by far the biggest game for us this year to this point this year,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??We‚??re playing a 5-0 Northwestern team. We feel like we‚??re doing some good things. We need all those students in the stands at noon for that kickoff.
‚??These (players), they feed off of that. You know, the crowd noise, the student section ‚?? these guys feed off of that.‚?Ě
Noon kickoffs traditionally feature late-arriving crowds, not just for the student section. Traffic around the stadium is particularly bad for early starts, regardless of the opponent or the time of year.
Student organizations announced Monday that they would be organizing a ‚??white-out‚?Ě for the game, encouraging the entire student section to wear white to the game.
‚??Whether it‚??s white-out, this-out, that-out ‚?? I don‚??t know,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said.
‚??I just need them in the stands at noon, going nuts for this football team. Because we‚??ve got to have a great home-field advantage. And these guys really feed off of that.‚?Ě
The Lions are as healthy as they‚??ve been all season headed into the game. Valley View‚??s Nyeem Wartman (knee) is the only 2012 contributor who has been ruled out.
Defensive end Pete Massaro is expected to return after missing the last two games. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong sat out the second half against Illinois but should also be at full strength.
O‚??Brien didn‚??t waste time naming Bill Belton his starting running back at the start of preseason camp. He was confident enough in the sophomore that he said Belton could handle upwards of 20-25 carries a game.
An ankle injury in the opener scrambled those plans. But now that Belton is back and at full health, O‚??Brien said he still plans to use a rotation of guys in the backfield.
‚??Whoever it is, maybe it‚??s more like 12 to 15 carries per game,‚?Ě O‚??Brien said.
‚?? Nobody‚??s going to carry it 30 times for us. It‚??s more about that 10- to 15-carry range, probably right now. Things change as the season goes on.‚?Ě
Asked about how things have gone for the program on the recruiting trail in light of the NCAA sanctions, O‚??Brien sought to paint a bright picture.
‚??When the sanctions happened, I know that everybody said, ‚??Uh-oh, here we go. What‚??s going to happen to Penn State?‚?? ‚?Ě O‚??Brien said.
‚??(But) at every home game we‚??ve had between 40 and 50 prospects here. OK? So, you know, what (negative effects) are we talking about here?‚?Ě
The Lions, of course, can only bring in a maximum of 15 new recruits (down from 25), starting with this upcoming signing class and lasting for four years. From 2014-17, they can only have 65 scholarship players at any given time (down from 85).
O‚??Brien acknowledged that it won‚??t be easy, but he insisted that interest in the program from high school players has not waned.
‚??So who‚??s to say?‚?Ě O‚??Brien said. ‚??OK, the numbers, the numbers are not equal to the other teams out there. We understand that. As a staff, we have to do a great job of understanding that. But at the end of the day, I‚??ve been very, very impressed with the fact that people really, really enjoy being recruited by us, coming to the games here.
‚??So is it going to be hard? Yeah. Recruiting‚??s hard. Recruiting‚??s hard. But at the end of the day, I think there‚??s a lot of good stuff.‚?Ě
Northwestern at Penn State
TV: Noon Saturday, ESPN
Last meeting: Penn State beat Northwestern 34-24 on Oct. 22, 2011.