Penn State: Why Bill O'Brien Has to Be the Early Favorite for Coach of the Year

Barry LeonardAnalyst IIIOctober 1, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions gestures towards an official during the first half against the Navy Midshipmen at Beaver Stadium on September 15, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Imagine walking into a job and replacing a legend who had been in the position for over 50 years.

Now imagine that same place being thrust into the national spotlight amid terrible scandal.

That's what Bill O'Brien walked into when he accepted the Penn State coaching job in January.

As if that wasn't enough, the NCAA came down hard on Penn State in July when it levied harsh sanctions on the university. A four-year bowl ban, a large reduction in scholarships and permitting players to leave without penalty only added to the adversity that was already facing O'Brien and Penn State.

Nobody would have faulted him if he chose to leave his new position. After all, Penn State was set up to fail for the next few years.

Instead of running, O'Brien decided to accept the challenge. He has since embraced the negativity and turned it into positive motivation. O'Brien has never publicly complained about how harsh the sanctions are or how unfair they are to he and his current team.

The first-year head coach has also accepted the fact that some of his star players have left.

Instead of complaining, he has found creative ways to replace those losses with guys from the current roster.

After five games, Penn State sits at 3-2 overall, 1-0 in the Big Ten. That's a big accomplishment considering the Nittany Lions started the season 0-2.

Penn State was heartbroken in the opener at home in Week 1 against Ohio. The Lions blew a 14-3 halftime lead by giving up 21 points in the second half to the Bobcats.

At Virginia in Week 2, Penn State outplayed the Cavaliers, but lost 17-16 after kicker Sam Ficken missed four field goals and had an extra point blocked.

Through everything, O'Brien and his boys have stayed positive and focused on the road ahead. Penn State has now reeled off three straight wins over Navy, Temple and Illinois.

With the way that the offense has been rolling along lately, it's not impossible to think that Penn State has a real chance to reel off seven, eight or even nine wins and finish on top of the Big Ten Leaders Division.   

At this point in the season, Bill O'Brien has to be the favorite for National Coach of the Year. No other coach has had to face anything close to what he has at Penn State this year.

There's no doubt that if Penn State keeps winning, O'Brien will be at the top of the list by the end of the season.