By Ben Cook, Lindyssports.com
There may never have been a team, university or community that looked forward to the start of a football season as this year’s Penn State Nittany Lions and the extended community of Penn State football fans.
Maybe last year’s Alabama family could qualify after tornados ripped through the state in April cutting out a path of death and destruction but not touching the heart and soul that is Alabama football. That story had a happy and fitting finish when Alabama won the BCS national title.
There is very little chance the Penn State story will have a similar happy ending. In fact, the end of the Penn State story has yet to be written and no matter what Bill O’Brien’s Lions achieve on the football field in the fall it will not wash away the ugliness that has permeated Happy Valley since the arrest of Jerry Sandusky for a child sex abuse. The story continues to unfold and more and more Penn State administrators are being found culpable of burying their heads in the sand and allowing a pedophile to continue to roam freely on the campus.
Through it all the business of football continues to offer some small solace — and a modicum of hope — for Penn State students. Those students and fans who once proudly proclaimed “We are … Penn State!” over the years may be a little less quick to use that cheer again. Where once being associated with Penn State was a matter of pride it now brings up unflattering and embarrassing images. The transition is because of one man who was allowed to practice his destructive obsession with young boys while no one in authority who had knowledge of his actions held him accountable.
The Penn State students are grabbing on to football like a drowning man frantically embracing a life preserver.
When student tickets went on sale for this football season in late June, the entire allotment of 21,000 tickets was sold in less than a week. The Penn State student section has been ranked as one of the most rabid in the nation by the ESPN College Gameday crew and the sale of student tickets is another endorsement of the group and the school that needs all the good vibes it can get at the moment.
When he took over the job as Joe Paterno’s replacement, O’Brien knew that following a legend would be tough in the football sense. For football he was prepared. It is unlikely he knew that his first team would also be charged with the responsibility of repairing an entire university’s image.
O’Brien had to force-feed his offense to a new team in the short space of spring football. One of his most important decisions was who would be the Lions starting quarterback.
“When you go into training camp you have to make sure that one guy is getting the bulk of the reps,” O’Brien said. “You don’t have time to give three guys equal reps. Also, in the summertime when the coaches aren’t allowed to be around, you need to have leaders on both sides of the ball. Matt (McGloin), being a quarterback, is a leader on the offensive side of the ball…Mostly, it’s because you have to get one guy ready to play. You can’t get three guys ready to play. And it’s really hard to get two guys ready to play. So you have to have a starter, and then you go from there.
“He (McGloin) was the most consistent guy throughout the spring,” he said. “He has good command of the offense at this point. He’s a tough kid. He’s a competitive kid. He’s shown good leadership qualities.
”His completion percentage, getting us in and out of the right plays, knowledge of the offense, being prepared in meetings, cutting down on his interceptions as spring ball went on,” O’Brien said. “He completed about 65 to 70 percent of his passes during the spring. He ran some of our situational stuff pretty well. He just did a very good job of being consistent.”
McGloin and his teammates will take the field on Sept. 1 to face Ohio, but in reality they will be facing a much bigger and tougher opponent — national perception.