This is it: The moment Penn State finally gets an opportunity to start a new dialogue.
After a nightmarish offseason that saw one of the most storied programs in the history rocked by a devastating sex abuse scandal, the Nittany Lions finally get to get back to football—though at this point, football almost seems like an afterthought.
This is not the same Penn State team we saw last season. This is a team that is without one of its biggest stars, its legendary head coach, a whole bunch of its scholarships, any hope of competing in a bowl game and—most of all—without the storied reputation this program has spent the last few decades creating.
And now, it must think about football again. It must think about starting over.
Penn State's first attempt at rehabilitation begins on Saturday, against Ohio. Here's where and when you can catch the action.
Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
When: Saturday, September 1 at 12 p.m. ET
Live Stream: ESPN3
Betting Line (via Bovada): Penn State -6
Penn State Injury Report (via USA Today)
- Safety Malcolm Willis is probable for Saturday's opener after being limited in practice due to a leg injury.
- Safety Jacob Fagnano is questionable for Saturday's game with a hamstring injury.
- Tight end Garry Gilliam is questionable for Saturday's game due to a lower-leg injury.
- Wide receiver Shawney Kersey is questionable for Saturday's game because of a left ankle injury.
Ohio Injury Report (via USA Today)
- Cornerback Travis Carrie is doubtful for Saturday's opener because of a sore shoulder.
- Kicker Josiah Yazdani is out indefinitely due to a knee injury.
AP/USA Today Top-25 Poll Implications
Polls aren't going to mean anything to Penn State for a long time. For the next four years, the Nittany Lions will be out of contention for the postseason—in addition to receiving a $60 million sanction and a vacation of all its wins since 1998, according to ESPN.com.
It also was slapped with a four-year scholarship reduction, and players have been allowed to transfer out of Penn State without sacrificing any eligibility.
In light of everything that has happened to Penn State this offseason, getting a win on Saturday may even seem like an afterthought.
Ohio, on the other hand, could really pump itself up with an opening-weekend win, despite the fact that beating Penn State now doesn't mean the same thing it meant a year ago. Last year, the Bobcats went 10-4 and finished first in the MAC East, and though they're not exactly in contention to be ranked (yet), their defense of the division title begins now.
What They're Saying
Obviously, this isn't the average season opener for Penn State. There's no joy, or lightheartedness or hope for the way the season will unfold; instead, there is a team with a first-year head coach, a few players with limited experience and a desperate hope to get the world talking about something else.
But that, according to the Associated Press' Genaro C. Armas, doesn't mean that those who opted to stay at Penn State won't be playing for something. Nittany Lions senior linebacker Gerald Hodges told Armas:
"There are a lot of guys in that locker room that feel they have something to play for. All that anger filled up. All that tension filled up ... I can just tell we can’t wait to unleash something."
That, of course, leaves the Bobcats in a strange situation. They're the underdogs, but they would seem to have a lot more to play for than the Nittany Lions do—especially head coach Frank Solich, a Pennsylvania native, who led Ohio to its first win in a bowl game less than a year ago.
Now, coming off that, Solich is gunning to lead the Bobcats to their biggest win in program history, according to The Patriot News' David Jones. And all it will take is a victory over his hometown team.
Penn State Player to Watch
Silas Redd was the most high-profile former Nittany Lion to take advantage of the fact that he could transfer without penalty, and as a result, Penn State lost its leading rusher, who accumulated 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in 2011.
Second-leading rusher Stephfon Green graduated. So now, it's up to Curtis Dukes to pick up where they left off and keep this Penn State rushing attack competitive.
In his career, Dukes only has 43 carries. Last season, he rushed for 237 yards and a single touchdown. Last spring, according to StateCollege.com's Mike Poorman, Dukes decided he couldn't compete in school and on the field simultaneously, so he took some time away from football and resorted to weekly meetings with Bill O'Brien, who helped him get to a place where he could boost his grades.
Now, Dukes will attempt to return the favor to his coach by making him look good on the field.
Ohio Player to Watch
In 2011, quarterback Tyler Tettleton had a prolific season, throwing for 3,306 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions and posting an overall QB rating of 148.9. This season, it's about improving upon those numbers.
Those numbers, in fact, were the most productive of any passer in Bobcats history, according to the AP's Jim Litke. And Tettleton has the confidence in himself—as does Solich—that he can be even better in 2012.
An opening-weekend win over Penn State would definitely be an excellent way to prove it.
Tettleton told Litke:
"Being honest, I'll admit we're excited to play in front of that big a crowd, with that many more people watching, because we'll know pretty quick whether the goals we set—a top-25 ranking, getting back to the MAC Championship and another bowl game—are realistic."
Where to start?
Who's your pick to win?
At the forefront of everyone's mind, as the season-opener approaches, is an eagerness to see how this batch of Penn State players, along with first-year head coach O'Brien, will fare in the aftermath of the Sandusky scandal.
There is an immense amount of pressure, and there are sky-high emotions, and many believe that this group of players—as well as O'Brien—are paying for something that had nothing to do with them.
But Penn State has no other choice, at this point, other than to move on. The only question is whether the Nittany Lions will triumph or falter in the wake of such a devastating scandal.
Prediction: Ohio Wins
The spread isn't that huge, and Ohio is coming off a season in which its quarterback had the best season in school history. The Bobcats have experience and talent, whereas Penn State has a head coach embarking on his first gig at the helm of a college program and a whole bunch of uncertainty.