Nebraska Football: Why Husker Fans Should Fear Bill O'Brien and Penn State

Andrew SteierContributor IIINovember 8, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions walks off the field after defeating the Navy Midshipmen 34-7 at Beaver Stadium on September 15, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Nebraska-Penn State annual crossover game took an interesting turn before it even started a year ago.  But the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the resulting NCAA sanctions have not crippled Penn State as many thought, insuring that Penn State will be no easy customer in Sandusky’s wake.

When the Cornhuskers travelled to Happy Valley last year, no one could predict what would transpire on the field.  The Jerry Sandusky scandal had shaken the Penn State football program to the core and caught in the cross-hairs were the Nittany Lion players who had to take the field in the midst of the madness.

As unpredictable and unprecedented as that November afternoon was, many Nebraska fans thought they knew what to expect following the NCAA’s July announcement of a four-year postseason ban and large scholarship reductions.

Many expected a large number of current players to head for other programs and Penn State recruits to decommit in favor of bowl-eligible teams.  But the extent to which players jumped ship was greatly overestimated.

Despite losing high-profile players like starting running back Silas Redd to USC and leading returning receiver Justin Brown to Oklahoma, other team leaders like starting quarterback Matt McGloin and starting linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges stayed to begin the next chapter in Penn State football.  And under the leadership of coach Bill O’Brien, they have redefined and reinvigorated Nittany Lion football despite the brutal NCAA sanctions.

While O’Brien has retained Penn State’s excellence on defense, keeping the team in the top 25 rankings in that regard in 2012, his new-look offense has been a big reason for the Nittany Lion’s success this year.  The Penn State offense is averaging almost 70 yards more this year than last, largely thanks to quarterback Matt McGloin’s increased success in O’Brien’s system.

In 2011, McGloin threw for 1,571 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions while completing 54 percent of his passes.  Through only nine games this year, he has already thrown for 2,436 yards, 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions, completing 62 percent of his passes.

Even though Penn State has had to adjust to a new head coach and and handle multiple losses at the skill positions, the Nittany Lions have put up at least 34 points in four conference wins this year.  They have somehow improved on offense amidst all of the chaos surrounding the university and are once again a formidable opponent for the Huskers in 2012.

And perhaps the most surprising part is that this progress shows few signs of slowing.  While the enormous fine and the postseason ban for 2012 were obviously sizable penalties, many expected the real effects of the sanctions to take shape in the coming years due to scholarship reductions and the continued bowl ban.

But Penn State’s recruiting under coach Bill O’Brien has somehow not skipped a beat.  Amidst the seeming multitude of reasons for a recruit to pick a school other than Penn State, big-name prospects like third-ranked quarterback Christian Hackenberg are still choosing PSU.  And well into the recruiting season, Bill O’Brien owns the 25th-ranked 2013 class in the nation.

A year after Penn State underwent perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of college sports, the Nittany Lions find themselves in a surprisingly promising place.  Husker fans, as well as other annual opponents of Penn State, largely assumed that the NCAA sanctions would cripple the program and create a relatively easy matchup for the Big Red for a few years to come.

But through three-fourths of Bill O’Brien’s inaugural season, no one can deny the incredible progress he has made.  Despite a very rough two-loss start to the season, O’Brien has the Penn State defense rolling and the offense firing better than it did a year ago.  And with O’Brien’s strong recruiting (considering the circumstances), Penn State has proven that it will surprisingly be a team to be reckoned with for years to come, even under the weight of massive NCAA sanctions.