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The Great Unknown

by on August 30, 2012 8:50 AM

It’s fairly safe to say that few, if any, people know what to expect Saturday when Penn State football opens its 2012 season against Ohio University. And that means just about everything — game-day atmosphere, fan response, and how the Nittany Lions will actually play.

We do know the team will look different right from the start — with names on the backs of jerseys and blue ribbons on the backs of helmets. We assume they’ll look different on offense and defense — with new schemes and new personnel. We know a new man will be leading them onto the field — with head coach Bill O’Brien set to coach his first game.

We also know that this could be one of the most watched Penn State games in history. Football fans and even nonfootball fans will likely tune in to see how the team, the university, and the community are responding after the past 10 months. They will want to see if Penn Staters are still supporting the program after all its been through and knowing that the team won’t be going to a bowl game this season — or for the following three seasons.

I predict a raucous and emotionally charged crowd on Saturday — even if they won’t be hearing “Sweet Caroline” played over the loudspeakers (I always preferred “Cracklin’ Rosie” or “Forever in Blue Jeans” anyway). That’s easy to predict. As for how the team will actually play? This is as challenging an opener the team has faced in more than a decade. Ohio went 10-4 last season and is a favorite to win the MAC this season. Bobcat quarterback Tyler Tettleton could be one of the best quarterbacks Penn State faces all season — and given the question marks in the Lions’ secondary, that’s not good news.

Special teams also is a major concern as the Lions work in new starting placekicker Sam Ficken, who saw action last season as a true freshman, and punter Alex Butterworth. O’Brien didn’t exactly sound overly optimistic about the punting game during his Tuesday press conference.

Still, the feeling here is the Lions, with all the emotion they’ll have, will find a way to win. One of O’Brien’s best moves since being hired was to name Matt McGloin the starting quarterback in the summer before preseason practices began. That avoided any drama and distractions — at least with regard to the starting QB — that have hindered the team the past two seasons. McGloin’s supporting cast may be inexperienced, but players such as running back Bill Belton and wide receiver Allan Robinson seem to have the talent to put up some solid numbers this season.

Penn State’s front seven on defense, led by tackle Jordan Hill and linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, is one of the best around and should help the secondary as it develops.

The prediction is Penn State 27, Ohio 17. McGloin should get off to a good start in the new offense, and the defense should be able to contain Tettleton.

Elsewhere this week:

Prep Game of the Week: What else but the one that has two Centre County teams playing each other — Bellefonte at Bald Eagle Area. The Eagles are coming off a 4-6 season that included a 28-6 win over Bellefonte, which went 1-9 last year. Interestingly, the two meet again in Bellefonte on October 26.

College Game of the Week: Michigan vs. Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Each team has a BCS title on their mind — the Crimson Tide, of course, are looking to win a second consecutive championship. Should be fun watching Wolverine QB Denard Robinson go against an inexperienced Alabama defense.

NFL Game of the Week: Well, there is just one — my beloved Dallas Cowboys travel to the Garden State to play the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Wednesday evening. I could make a joke about who will make more mistakes this night — Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo or Vice President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to give his speech at the Democratic Convention this night. But, call me crazy, I have hopes that this could be a very good year for Romo, and the Cowboys may surprise some people and make some noise in the NFC East. Mind you, I’m not predicting a win over the G-men in the opener.

Penn State (nonfootball) Game of the Week: Women’s volleyball hosts Stanford (Friday) and Texas (Saturday). The No. 3 Lions are coming off a perfect weekend at the Active Ankle Challenge in Louisville. This weekend they host the Nike Big Four and play sixth-ranked Stanford on Friday and second-ranked Texas on Saturday. Florida also is participating in the tournament. Juniors Ariel Scott, Katie Slay, and Deja McClendon led the Lions in their three wins last weekend, with Scott taking home the tournament MVP honors after totaling 34 kills.

David Pencek is editor of Town&Gown magazine, Town&Gown's Penn State Football Annual, and Town&Gown's Penn State Winter Sports Annual.
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