All things considered, Penn State has had a successful start to the Bill O'Brien era. Emotional opening losses to Ohio and Virginia left this season in doubt, but a string of five straight wins put Penn State back into the mix with the Big Ten's best teams.
With the NFL about to start searching for potential head coaching candidates in 2013, O'Brien's name has already been thrown into the mix. Should he choose to bolt for an NFL head coaching job, the Nittany Lions would be further up the creek towards their rebuilding efforts.
CBS Sports' NFL Insider Jason La Canfora floated O'Brien and Oregon head coach Chip Kelly as two names general managers will potentially analyze when looking for a good fit for a franchise. Although O'Brien just got to State College and is part of a rebuilding effort, La Canfora takes an interesting look at his circumstances going forward.
Some wonder if O'Brien would leave the school so soon. But it's worth noting that while assurances were made to O'Brien upon his hiring that the team would not face any NCAA discipline, the program was instead hit hard. Penn State was banned from postseason play including bowl games for four years, will lose 10 initial scholarships given to first-year NCAA athletes for four years beginning in 2013 and will drop its total number of scholarships from 85 to 65 for four years beginning in 2014...O'Brien's contract was extended in the aftermath of those sanctions.
If O'Brien were to look at a potential job in Jacksonville or San Diego as more beneficial to his career, it could set Penn State even further back in recruiting efforts, in the direction of an offense that has thrived under his leadership and the morale of a school that can see a glimmer of light each time O'Brien faces questions about looming problems.
Maybe most importantly, O'Brien has said all the right things about the tradition and history that embody the university. Onward State, a blog covering all things Nittany Lions, pulled this quote from a recent interview with O'Brien about the mindset down the stretch.
Despite no bowl game, Bill O'Brien says Penn State still has a lot to play for: "Our history. Our tradition. Our student body."— Onward State (@OnwardState) November 6, 2012
It's hard to think of a candidate that would have handled the situation any better. Despite being bombarded with the NCAA sanctions in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation allegations, he kept his players positive and managed to keep a few starters around to compete this season.
Despite the loss of Justin Brown and others to premier programs, Penn State has done quite well with the assortment of offensive talent and defensive intensity still left in the locker room.
Quarterback Matthew McGloin, once a lost cause in the eyes of Penn State faithful, has had a resurgence. He's on pace to throw for 3,000 yards and might hit the 25-touchdown mark with two good games.
Wideout Allen Robinson has also emerged. With over 700 yards and eight touchdowns, he's a good bet to be one of the Big Ten's most exciting players to watch in 2013, and potentially be on NFL scouts' radar.
Even Big Ten colleagues have been impressed with the way O'Brien has managed to implement an offense, deal with the normal transitions coaches go through and fight off all the distractions of NCAA sanctions while picking up six wins in his first 10 games. Penn State beat writer Guy Cipriano had Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini on record about O'Brien.
Bo Pelini on Bill O'Brien's start at Penn State: “I think he's done a phenomenal job."— Guy Cipriano (@cdtguy) November 5, 2012
The evidence is overwhelming. O'Brien is the new face of a program that so desperately longs to forget about the last year. Joe Paterno and Sandusky have become taboo around the rest of the world, but O'Brien is a figurehead for change and recovery spearheaded by the old-school values of commitment and tradition.
There's no guarantee one way or another if he will depart for the NFL. Penn State showed good faith by extending his contract when the sanctions came down, and it hopes to find some stability after one man held the post for the last half-century.
For Penn State, it's imperative he stick around. There's three more classes that have to endure the brunt of no bowl games. Recruits are going to be hard sells with the promise of playing in a bowl as upperclassmen the only real kicker.
Since the Sandusky scandal broke and the tragic news of Paterno came to light, O'Brien is the first real glimpse at hope for clearing this athletic program from the shame of the last 10-plus years. If he isn't around to see it through, it could delay the process to an end unseen by us all.
Ethan Grant is a featured columnist for B/R's Breaking News Team and a syndicated writer for the site.