You’re going to hear a lot about how things have changed at Penn State in the past year.
They have and we’ve highlighted quite a few in this section.
We won’t rehash them here, but it suffices to say that the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal, the firing and death of football coach Joe Paterno and the harsh NCAA sanctions have changed the landscape of Penn State football forever.
But, today is another Saturday in the fall.
And while it seems everything is new, there still are some old things that Penn State football and its fans need to wrap themselves in like a fluffy security blanket.
Today’s noon clash against Ohio is all about tailgates, sharing some food and beverages with friends, family and extended football family. It’s about singing the alma mater, listening to the Blue Band and seeing if the drum major sticks his landing after the trademark flip.
It’s about the excitement of a new season, a packed house of blue and white at Beaver Stadium and the rumble that 100,000+ can make when the home team makes a big play.
But most of all it’s about football. Xs, Os, fly patterns and blitzes. Dazzling moves and bone-rattling hits.
While there are those who come for the pageantry, in the end it’s the game that has fans worked up that night and for a week to come.
And at Penn State, that gameday tradition usually has meant the home crowds have flooded back into the parking lots celebrating a victory.
That’s one tradition the university has entrusted to Bill O’Brien.
Many want to try to make O’Brien the savior of the program. While he has been outstanding and eloquent in dealing with the unprecedented turmoil surrounding the program he took over in January, we’re sure “savior” is not part of his job description.
What Bill O’Brien does best is coach football and that’s what he’s here to do.
He’s assembled a solid staff and has managed to rally all but a few of the team’s best players to stick it out through this season. That’s a great start.
Now, his job isn’t to salve all of the wounds from the past 10 months. Bill O’Brien’s job is to win football games.
He may do it a lot differently that we’ve seen here in the past ---maybe before the end of the season, we’ll all know what a Y and F tight end does on each play --- but the bottom line is the bottom line.
And regardless of all of the good public relations, O’Brien knows that the true measure of a football coach is what the scoreboard reads when time runs out.
O’Brien put it plainly during his pre-game news conference this week.
“Every time we go out, whether it’s a practice or a game, we’re going out there with the expectation to win,” he said. “Does that mean we’re going to win every single game we play? No. The expectation is to go out and play your best, play smart, play hard, play clean, respect your opponent and to do the best you can to win the game. If we don’t’ win the game, then we go back, review the film, we correct mistakes and we get back to practice and get ready for the next opponent.
“But the expectation as long as I’m head coach here ---as it’s always been ---is to go out there and win and I’d say that would be the same for every football program in America. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”
And maybe that’s what makes this season so important. With the looming scholarship restrictions imposed by the NCAA kicking in next fall, this year’s team could be O’Brien’s best chance to show off what he’s brought over from the NFL’s New England Patriots.
That’s been a team that’s known quite a bit about winning.
So no matter where the team dresses before the game, what is on the back of the uniform and what songs are played over the loudspeakers, that’s the tradition that in the end that will mean the most to the Nittany Lion faithful.
Walt Moody can be reached at 231-4630. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt