Just six weeks ago, I was one of the biggest National Football League fans that you could ever meet. There was nothing that excited me more than the prospect of a new football season. I bled green and white as a die-hard New York Jets fan. Penn State football, though something that excited me, was simply an afterthought in my realm of football fandom.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Beaver Stadium experience — the chants, the feeling of standing with thousands of fellow State fans in the student section, the pre-game tailgates, and the official or unofficial whiteouts. I liked it. But I never loved it. In just six short weeks, Bill O’Brien’s new-look Nittany Lions football team has forced me to completely re-evaluate my disinterest towards college football.
I used to consider Saturday to be something that stood in the way of my NFL Sunday. Now Sunday just means that there are six days left until I make the walk to Beaver Stadium again. Based on conversations that I’ve had with fellow students, it seems that I’m not alone in this newfound love of college football. Thanks to a scandal that rocked the foundation of this university last November, the solidarity among the student body has grown and the vibe at football games appears to be stronger than ever as a result.
With a target on this team’s — and in extension, this school’s — back, the student body has recognized that the stakes are high during the few hours we spend each week in “The House That Joe Built”. This is very clearly the most important season in school history, and students are more excited now than ever about Penn State football. But “excited” isn’t the right word, because it’s so much more than that. Saturday is no longer just an excuse to get drunk and scream until you have no voice left. Saturday is serious.
On Saturday, the perseverance of our football team and our student body (and yes, our alumni too) is put on trial for the world to see. Six weeks ago, the projections for this team were dull. We were expected to win our first two games and lose our next four, not the other way around. Six weeks later, there’s a feeling that something really special is happening in that monstrosity that we call Beaver Stadium. The student section is exercising their power as the “12th man” more than ever before. The players feed off of the crowd and the crowd feeds off of the players. But none of this would be possible without the man that we affectionately call B.O.B.
Bill O’Brien has reenergized a football program and a fan base in the nine short months that he has been here. Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions had me convinced that college football could never even touch the excitement and electricity of a National Football League game. The pace was slower. The plays were conservative. The passes were short. Nothing that I saw in Beaver Stadium during the last two years of the Paterno era — my first two years at Penn State — made me want to jump off of my couch in joy or scream “We are…” at the top of my lungs. And now I can’t stop doing either of those things when watching the exciting Bill O’Brien offensive scheme.
Trick plays. Long passes. Rugged, downhill running backs.
Cover corners. Run-stoppers. Tough, hard-hitting linebackers.
The list of electric players on this team goes on and on — Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Michael Zordich, Zach Zwinak, Derek Day, Matt McGloin, Allen Robinson, Matt Lehman, and Kyle Carter. With Bill O’Brien at the helm, this Penn State football team has a powerful and explosive offense that looks to be light years ahead of the scheme that we were running just one year ago.
They operate at a faster pace. They use more complex looks and seem to be somewhat unpredictable for the first time in years. They go for fourth downs in field goal range. Every. Single. Time. They have a (fairly) accurate quarterback that’s found great chemistry with wideout Allen Robinson, who has been doing his best Derek Moye impression for the last six weeks. They average almost 400 yards of offense per game.
On the other side of the ball, the defense has dominated through the first half of the season. Their average of 16 points allowed per game is the 20th best in the nation. They have the ability to both run-stop successfully and play lockdown pass coverage. Their front seven features Michael Mauti, the defense’s fearless leader and just an all-around intimidating guy thanks to 232 pounds of destructive, havoc-wreaking body mass.
This is a well-rounded football team that has undergone a transformation, bringing just about every disinterested fan like me along with them.
Six weeks ago, I was an NFL fanatic who happened to go to college football games on the weekends for fun.
Six weeks later, I bleed blue and white and have been cursing the football gods for scheduling a bye one week after the best football game that I’ve seen Penn State play in my time as a student.
Sanctions be damned. I’m all in.