A huge experience gap exists between Penn State and its first opponent.
Bill OBriens tenure as the Nittany Lions 15th head coach begins today against Ohio University, and his first team includes a group of players with a combined 37 college starts.
Center Matt Stankiewitch and quarterback Matt McGloin lead the unit with 15 and 10 starts, respectively. No other offensive player owns more than three starts.
Ohio left guard Eric Herman has started 38 games, including two Mid-American Conference championship and three bowl contests.
Herman is surrounded by experienced linemen. Center Skyler Allen and right guard Jon Lechner are also returning starters. The Bobcats return 12 other starters, although they lost cornerback Travis Carrie to season-ending shoulder injury in the preseason.
The experience could help Ohio handle a hostile situation. The Beaver Stadium crowd should swell past 100,000 fans, with supporters rallying behind a Penn State team competing for the first time since receiving major NCAA sanctions.
Ohio has experience to possibly counter the crowd. Coach Frank Solich followed Tom Osborne at Nebraska. The job featured intense moments, including a 40-7 loss in 2002 at Beaver Stadium.
The coaching veteran in Solich convinced him to blare speakers in recent practices.
The noise vibrates within that stadium, he said. Its a very difficult place to play. You do the best that you can to prepare for it. Youre trying to make sure guys are on the same page when the ball is snapped.
The scene also might overwhelm some Penn State players. Seven candiates who might be involved in the first offensive snap are either freshmen or sophomores. Sophomore tailback Bill Belton, sophomore wide receivers Allen Robinson and Alex Kenney, freshman wide receiver Trevor Williams, and freshmen tight ends Kyle Carter and Jesse James are key skill players. One of the biggest offensive line pieces, left tackle Donovan Smith, is a redshirt freshman making his college debut.
Multiple defections turned the offense into a young unit. Tailback Silas Redd (Southern California) and wide receiver Justin Brown (Oklahoma) left after the sanctions were announced. Wide receiver Devon Smith left for personal reasons in June and landed at Marshall.
Were just ready to get out there, Robinson said. Offensively and defensively we are prepared to come out and play. Its a tough game. Ohio is a pretty good team.
Robinson caught three passes for 29 yards as a true freshman last season, meaning he qualifies as Penn States version of an experienced player. The depth chart revealed this week features 12 true freshmen. Williams, James, wide receiver Eugene Lewis, running back Akeel Lynch, and defensive backs DaQuan Davis and Jordan Lucas are true freshmen who might touch the ball today.
If theyre on the depth chart, Im expecting them to go out and contribute, OBrien said. Sure, theyll be nervous. But theyve proven to us in practice that theyre instinctive players that understand what were trying to do offensively, defensively and on special teams.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy