The Penn State Nittany Lions open their 2012 season at home against the Ohio Bobcats from the Mid-American Conference.
Danny Sheridan of USA Today, currently has Penn State favored by six points in the matchup. In a normal year, this line would likely be much larger. However, with all of the off-field distractions that have happened, the Nittany Lions will have to stay focused and work hard to earn the win.
This list looks at five keys to the game for the Nittany Lions to come away with the victory. If the Lions want to start 2012 off on the right foot, they must play solid in all areas of the game.
The keys are listed in no particular order.
With the departure of star running back Silas Red, the Lions will turn to Bill Belton to lead the running game. This will be a key to the Lions winning in Week 1. Senior running back Michael Zordich will also play a big role in the running game. Zordich has shown skill in catching the ball out of the backfield.
A solid run game can slow the game down and keep the opposing defense on the field. If Penn State can establish the run game early, it could lead to opportunities down the field for quarterback Matt McGloin and the passing game.
The run game is also important for the fact that it can keep Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton off the field.
If Penn State hopes to cruise to victory in this game, the ground game will play a major factor.
Turnovers can kill any team, no matter who they are playing. Nothing can change a game more than a huge mistake at an inopportune time. The turnover is the great equalizer in any football game.
Quarterback Matt McGloin and running back Bill Belton will play a huge part in making sure that doesn't happen.
McGloin has been prone to the interception in previous years. He has shown a tendency to throw into tight spots, sometimes resulting in a turnover. Belton is a young runner who is not used to being a starter at the collegiate level.
There is no question the Lions offense will be young and inexperienced this year. Any mistake will probably be magnified. It will be up to their leader, McGloin, to make sure that doesn't happen.
With the added emotion of ushering in the Bill O'Brien Era of Penn State Football, the crowd at Beaver Stadium should be electric on Saturday. Penn State has some of the most passionate fans in the country, and they will be cheering loudly for their Lions at the home opener.
Home-field advantage is always nice, especially at Beaver Stadium. Over 100,000 screaming fans often make it difficult for opposing offenses to communicate on the field. The Nittany Lions will be counting on their fans to provide energy to the field.
There is no doubt that the start of the game will be emotional for everyone in attendance. It will be important for Penn State to get off to a fast start in order to keep that energy going. A quick touchdown or big defensive play will keep the fans going crazy.
A lackluster start could quiet the crowd and take away any advantage that might be gained from playing at home. Starting fast and keeping the home crowd in the game will be a key to Penn State's success.
Special teams, especially at the collegiate level, can help determine the outcome of any game. A missed field here, a botched return there, and suddenly, the score is a lot closer that it should be.
The Nittany Lions enter the game with little experience in the key areas of special teams. Kicker and punter Anthony Fera transferred to Texas, leaving the kicking duties to Sam Ficken and Alex Butterworth. Ficken will be expected to convert on field goals, while Butterworth will take over the punting duties.
Week 1 could give Bill O'Brien a good indication of exactly where the kicking game stands. For Penn State to be victorious, it must be solid. That means no missed chip-shot field goals and no shanked punts.
The return game also lost some experience heading into 2012. Receiver Justin Brown was slated to handle the majority of the return duties before he transferred to Oklahoma.
O'Brien is yet to announce who will be handling the returns on Saturday. However, according to Guy Cipriano of the Centre Daily Times, cornerback Adrian Amos, running back Bill Belton and wide receiver Alex Kenney could all see time in that role.
Special teams is an area of the game that is often overlooked. On a young team, such as Penn State, it can become even more important.
With the Penn State offense losing key contributors in 2012, the defense could be called upon to step up in many games this season.
They will get their first chance on Saturday when they face off against gunslinger Tyler Tettleton and the Ohio offense. The Bobcats ranked 43rd in the nation last year for passing yards. Tettleton threw for over 3,000 yards in 2011. He is experienced and could cause trouble for the young Penn State secondary.
Penn State will look to returning linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges to pressure Tettleton and make him rush his passes. Defensive lineman Jordan Hill is another key player who has a knack for getting to the quarterback.
If Ohio is going to have a shot in this game, they are going to rely on the arm of Tettleton. If the Penn State defense can get to him early, he could be in for a long day.
This will be a must to ensure Bill O'Brien his first victory as head coach at Penn State.