A season of change is finally about to begin at Penn State.
New coach. New offense. A new look to the classic uniform.
Ohio visits Beaver Stadium Saturday for the historic season opener. Time to play football again following an offseason no one could have imagined.
‘‘It’s going to be very emotional, not only for me, but for everyone in that stadium,’’ senior linebacker Mike Mauti said. ‘‘Finally getting back to work . . . giving the fans something to cheer about and that’s what we’re all looking forward to the most.’’
Anger still simmers among the fan base for landmark penalties levied by the NCAA on the program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. New coach Bill O’Brien and players that had nothing to do with the scandal took the brunt of the punishment.
No bowl games for four years. Significant scholarship cuts. Five years probation. All those lofty preseason goals like playing for a BCS game are off the table.
It doesn’t mean Penn State is playing without a purpose, though. ‘‘We’re playing for pride, playing for respect,’’ said Gerald Hodges, who combines with Mauti to form one of the top outside linebacker tandems in the Big Ten. ‘‘No matter what you’re going to do to us, we’re going to get back up.’’
Clearly, this isn’t the situation that O’Brien expected to inherit when he replaced the late Joe Paterno in January. But the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots has deftly navigated an extraordinary first eight months on the job.
With no previous ties to Penn State, O’Brien is firmly focused on the future while also displaying sensitivity to the problem of child abuse.
Players’ names are being added to the once-simple blue-and-white Penn State jerseys. A blue ribbon will be added to the back of helmets to show support for victims of abuse.
With Mauti and fullback Michael Zordich leading the way, more than 90 percent of the Nittany Lions chose to stick with Penn State after the sanctions were announced and the NCAA gave players the option to seek an immediate transfer.
Michigan suspends 2
The Michigan Wolverines have reclaimed their confidence, something Alabama did shortly after Nick Saban landed in Tuscaloosa and started winning national titles.
The eighth-ranked Wolverines have already earned some preseason acclaim going into Saturday night’s opening showdown with the similarly pedigreed and second-ranked Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Beating a team that has won two of the last three national championships from a league that has captured six in a row would be an especially huge statement for Denard Robinson & Co.
On Friday, the Wolverines learned their task got even tougher. About 32 hours before kickoff, coach Brady Hoke announced he was suspending starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and reserve defensive end Frank Clark for the game. Toussaint pleaded guilty Tuesday to drunken driving; Clark is accused of taking a laptop from a dorm room.
The Wolverines would love to make a statement for the Big Ten, besieged by Penn State’s sex abuse scandal and encumbered by Ohio State’s bowl ban.
‘‘I went back and thought about last year at this time,’’ Hoke said. ‘‘I didn’t know if we were going to win two games let alone 11, because you don’t know until you get in the real deal as far as playing games. Honestly, we’ll find out. We’ll find out about ourselves.’’
Weis gets going
All the bluster is over for Charlie Weis. He won the opening press conference, quickly endearing himself to a skeptical fan base at Kansas. He turned over most of the coaching staff and reworked a team that won two games a year ago. Now, it’s time to see whether the new-look Jayhawks led by the former Notre Dame coach have made progress in the short time that Weis has been at the helm. Kansas opens its season Saturday night against South Dakota State. Starting at quarterback for Weis will be Dayne Crist, who transferred from South Bend. . . . The Rich Rodriguez era begins at Arizona Saturday night when his Wildcats are home against Toledo. He hopes for a different outcome than in his first four debuts as a head coach, when he lost every time. Rodriguez was hired after a highly successful stint at West Virginia followed by a less successful three seasons at Michigan.
UNC cleared by NCAA
North Carolina said the NCAA has reviewed irregularities in an academic department and told university officials it has found no rules violations so far. In a statement, the school said NCAA and UNC officials jointly reviewed problems in the Department of African and Afro-American Studies last fall during the NCAA’s ongoing probe of violations within the football program . . . A former Saginaw Valley State football player has told police he was the victim of sexual abuse by veteran teammates after refusing to participate in a team singing tradition. Coach Jim Collins suspended five players for Saturday’s season-opening game, citing a violation of team rules. The university said the players were the subject of a criminal investigation.