Penn State has a chance to clinch a winning season but a victory against No. 14 Wisconsin won’t come easy for the Nittany Lions who will travel to Madison, Wisc. for a showdown at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
An abnormal week of preparation will precede the game as practice times have been switched around and most of the team’s young players who are not on the travel roster will have the Thanksgiving holiday off. Players do not have classes this week either and will take extra time to prepare for Wisconsin with work in the film room.
“I think it really allows them to focus on Wisconsin,” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said of classes being over for the holiday.
Others will take the week to get healthy. O’Brien referred to his team on Monday as being “pretty banged up.”
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Juniors Adrian Amos and Bill Belton are two of those injured players. Belton will practice this week and “should be good to go” after the running back sitting out last weekend with a shoulder injury and illness, O’Brien said. Amos, a cornerback, has a sprained foot and is “day-to-day.”
Freshman special teams contributor Von Walker will also likely return O’Brien said. Walker sat out the Nebraska game with a concussion.
Penn State usually uses Monday’s practice as a contact-session. But O’Brien said the team took a break from hitting on Monday to allow a few bumps and bruises the chance to heal.
“I think Thanksgiving week, not having classes, being able to sleep in a little bit, come over get some treatments in the training room and then come back after practice and get another treatment, I think that will help,” O’Brien said. “And there's only one game left, so our guys will be ready to go out there and lay it on the line, I know that.”
Penn State (6-5, 3-4) can clinch its ninth straight winning season with a victory. Penn State hasn’t finished .500 or worse since it went 4-7 in 2004.
While Nittany Lion players aren’t thrilled with a possible .500 finish, they’ve seen improvements during a roller coaster like season.
“It is what it is at this point,” linebacker Mike Hull said. “It's been an up and down year, but I think really over the last few games we can see improvement with our team and that's really the main thing. We're improving in the right direction and we're setting up for the future and for next year.”
A win over a BCS opponent will go a long way in boosting returning players’ outlooks during the offseason, O’Brien said.
“It's also a chance for our younger players who are coming back next year, younger and veteran players who are coming back next year, to go out there against a very good football team and play well,” O’Brien said. “So it's an important game for that. So we're focused there.”
For the first time all season, O’Brien talked at length about what is coming up for his team and returning players once the season ends.
For O’Brien and his staff, the recruiting trail will heat up immediately after Saturday’s game. Sunday will be dedicated to recruiting meetings before coaches hit the road to try and lure more recruits into the 2014 and 2015 classes.
“We feel good about the '14 class, and we feel good about the '15 class,” O’Brien said. “Because you're always trying to stay one step ahead. So we're recruiting hard with the 2015 class.”