Last updated: February 16. 2013 9:21PM - 251 Views

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Getting back to football is the easy part. Getting back to normal? That's going to take some time.

The classic blue buses will still travel the same route this morning. From Toftrees to the Lasch Building and finally to Beaver Stadium for today's noon opener against Ohio.

Little else will feel the same for the Nittany Lions.

Those buses will pull up nearly an hour earlier than usual – at roughly 9:15 a.m. – and it won't be the starting quarterback out the door first, but the three or four game captains.

The routines will be different. The music will be different. The uniforms will be different.

And, of course, for the first time in 47 years, Penn State will open a season by running out of the tunnel with a different head coach.

"It's going to be a big moment," Bill O'Brien said. "The first football game of the season and obviously a big moment for Penn State. And we're all excited for it.

"But what matters is what we do after it kicks off."

Wins and losses have been largely an afterthought at Penn State since last November. But since the NCAA sanctions hit the program in July, O'Brien has been the face of a "move forward" initiative at the university.

And while the Lions' new coach has been deliberate this summer in recognizing how the school ended up in this situation, he also knows that he will ultimately be judged on wins and losses.

Though Penn State's record won't stop the season from ending on Thanksgiving weekend because of the sanctions, it could still have a profound effect on where the program goes from here.

Current players will again be free to transfer without penalty in the offseason, and a miserable 2012 campaign could lead to a new wave of defections. Recruits will be watching to see how the Lions handle the situation to determine whether to give them a shot on signing day.

If Penn State is to pull through this ordeal, which will span for most of the decade, it will start with the 114 players who will suit up in blue and white – and yes, with their names on the backs of their jerseys – today.

"I don't want to hype it up to be more than it is, but it's a very important season," said senior linebacker Mike Mauti, one of the emotional anchors of the squad. "It's going to tell people where this program's gonna go. And coach O'Brien is gonna make sure it goes in the right direction. We have full faith in him, and he's proven himself so far."

O'Brien's influence should quickly assert itself after kickoff.

Whereas past Penn State teams were known for being methodical. this one figures to be more aggressive.

On defense, new coordinator Ted Roof wants to mix up formations and schemes, bringing more blitzes and utilizing man-coverage more than ever before.

On offense, O'Brien himself will be calling the plays after performing the same duty in New England for the Patriots. He gave a hint this week that the tempo will be much faster.

"It's imperative to call the play quickly, to get the play into the huddle as fast as I can," O'Brien said on his weekly radio show, adding that he wants to give quarterback Matt McGloin 17 to 18 seconds to get up to the line, read the defense and check into a different play if need be.

It will all need to come together fairly quickly. The Bobcats are far different from the relative cupcakes the Lions have feasted on in recent season openers.

The preseason favorite to win the MAC, Ohio has been to three straight bowl games and narrowly missed winning a conference title last season. Coach Frank Solich, entering his eighth season with the Bobcats, was given a five-year extension by the school on Thursday for his efforts in building up the program.

Though certainly not in this same context, Solich has been in a game like this before after taking over for Tom Osborne at Nebraska in 1998.

"They are moving forward with what Bill O'Brien is all about," Solich said. "And I give him credit for that. It's never easy to step in and follow a coaching legend like Joe Paterno was in terms of wins and losses, because you get second-guessed on everything.

"As I view it, he's his own guy, he's doing what he thinks is best for Penn State and not doing what other people believe that he should be doing. I certainly give him a great deal of credit."


Ohio (0-0)

at Penn State (0-0)

Noon, today



State College


Radio: WILK (103.1 FM,

980 AM)

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