STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Once the model of stability, Penn State football has been thrust into a rebuilding project unlike any other.
So many changes in such a short time.
Scandal led to the ouster of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno after 46 seasons and his replacement by Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. That, in itself, would have been enough to get people talking in Happy Valley.
Now, O'Brien must embark on what might be the toughest assignment ever for a rookie coach: overcoming the landmark NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case as it continues to play out in the university community.
Here's a look at some of Penn State's changes, big and small, as the Nittany Lions get ready to host Ohio on Saturday in a historic season opener:
THEN: Joe Paterno.
NOW: Bill O'Brien.
Paterno was famously known as "JoePa" around these parts. No such nickname — yet — for O'Brien, though he's quickly won over the massive, passionate fan base with his no-nonsense attitude and offensive acumen. Blue "Bill-Lieve" T-shirts are now selling in downtown stores once stocked with Paterno gear. O'Brien has deftly navigated his first eight months of the job at every stressful twist and turn. He's displayed sensitivity for child abuse and promised that players would be involved in raising awareness of the issue. At the same time, his sights are set on the future of the program.
THEN: Numbers on jerseys.
NOW: Names — and numbers — on jerseys.
Penn State's blue-and-white, no-name uniforms were among the most recognizable in sports for the classic, simple look. Well, that look has been tweaked, folks. Names are going on the back of the uniforms, and O'Brien feels the change was important for several reasons. More than anything, he wants to let the public know which players stuck with the program following the strict NCAA penalties, including a four-year bowl ban and significant scholarship cuts. More than 90 percent of the roster stayed after the NCAA handed down its punishment July 23. A blue ribbon also will be placed on the back of helmets to show support for child abuse victims.
THEN: Clean-cut, fresh faces inside helmets.
NOW: Rough, gruff, tough faces inside helmets.
Don't expect a lumberjack convention on Saturday — some players, after all, aren't even old enough to grow much facial hair — but the Nittany Lions are permitted these days to show up unshaven. It's all a part of O'Brien's outlook and it allows the players to be themselves a little more. And why not? You had to be clean-shaven under Paterno, and early results say the players like the new style. They're even allowed to wear baseball caps in and around the football building.
The plaza outside the student gate at Beaver Stadium is home to a makeshift tent city with fans camping out for a chance to get to prime seats. It's such an event that the campers even have their own student organization. The Week 1 camp has already begun, but with a new name. "Paternoville" is now "Nittanyville." Organization vice president Jeff Lowe said the name change had been in the works for a while so as to place the focus squarely on football, and to eliminate any potential awkward moments if, for instance, O'Brien visited a site named after his predecessor. Lowe said the group checked in with Joe Paterno's son, former quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, to tell him why they were making the switch, and that the younger Paterno backed the decision.
THEN: "Meet me at The Statue."
NOW: "Meet me where The Statue used to be."
The bronzed statue of Joe Paterno that once stood outside Beaver Stadium is gone. So are the plaques that were placed behind it recounting Penn State wins and losses. After days of speculation so rampant that even Paterno's widow, Sue, and family members stood in line for one last chance to take a picture, the statue came down July 22 — the day before the NCAA handed down its penalties. More than a week later, landscapers made it look as if nothing was there in the first place. Grass and trees have been planted at the location where the statue once served as a gathering point for mourners following Paterno's death in January. It was also a landmark to meet up either before or after a game.
THEN: Run to set up the pass.
NOW: Pass to set up the run.
O'Brien knows all about quarterbacks after tutoring one the NFL's best — Tom Brady — while with the high-scoring Patriots. That New England playbook is now the model for Penn State's new attack. The run-oriented Nittany Lions had one of the worst red-zone offenses in the Big Ten the last two years. Perhaps not coincidentally, Penn State also had a quarterback controversy with Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. Now Bolden is at LSU. O'Brien tabbed McGloin the starter after the spring game, meaning the senior from Scranton had a full offseason to master the new, complicated scheme. Good thing, too, because he'll be counted on even more after 1,200-yard tailback Silas Redd transferred to Southern California and receiver Justin Brown bolted to Oklahoma. Either way, prepare to see more footballs in the air than you're used to at Beaver Stadium.
THEN: "Sweet Caroline"
NOW: Sing along with the team.
Traditions are big in college football, and usually a song or two accompany that. For Penn State, one of the selections used to be "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond. Well, no more. In the interest of moving on, and creating a new identity, that song has been scrapped. Not necessarily in its place, but worthy of noting is this: Stick around postgame because the Nittany Lions will sing the alma mater with the band after every home contest.
THEN: One of college football's toughest tickets.
NOW: Who needs one? Or two?
There won't be many seats open on Saturday — Penn State will still have one of the most loyal followings in the game — and when the tougher opponents come to town, there may not be any available. But for this opener, at least, there are seats out there on the secondary market, and the markup isn't all that bad. So, don't fret if you want to be there, and you don't have a ticket yet. Because as of Friday morning, stubhub.com had plenty of seats, starting at $99. And ticketsnow.com posted its most expensive seat at $194. Face value for Penn State tickets this season is $70-140.
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP
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