By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) If Bill O’Brien’s word is good, Penn State will be back.
When the NCAA sanctions were first handed down in July, the Nittany Lions looked to be doomed. A four-year postseason ban, heavy fine ($60 million plus loss of bowl revenue for four years), and a loss of scholarships (10 initial and 20 total scholarships each year) left many wondering if Penn State would ever return to glory.
Others, including me, couldn’t fathom how Bill O’Brien could stick around State College in such a situation — or even why he took the job in the first place.
But there was O’Brien the next day, double-downing on Penn State when he revealed an automatic four-year extension kicked in with the sanctions.
I still think O’Brien is crazy for taking this on, but that doesn’t mean he’s not the right guy. It doesn’t mean he won’t be successful. The truth is, Penn State needed someone crazy enough to take this job — someone convinced they could save Penn State football when all logic said they couldn’t.
It’s only been seven games, but it’s looking more and more likely that O’Brien is that guy. After an 0-2 start in which they could have won both games, the Nittany Lions are on a five game winning streak, most recently crushing Iowa 38-14 on the road under the lights.
While Penn State can’t play in the Big Ten Championship Game or a bowl game, it can win the Big Ten Leaders division. And at 3-0 in the Big Ten, it’s possible the Lions do just that, especially with Ohio State (this Saturday) and Wisconsin (Nov. 24) visiting Beaver Stadium this year.
If Penn State wins the Leaders division, Bill O’Brien should win every coach of the year award possible. All of his players had a chance to transfer without penalty, but only nine did. PSU’s leading returning rusher (Silas Redd) and receiver (Justin Brown) were among those who transferred, and yet the Lions are still 5-2. Matt McGloin, who never looked like a legitimate quarterback before this season, leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game (255).
Yes, what’s happening in State College is truly remarkable.
That said, it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The postseason ban and scholarship losses are going to make it really hard to recruit at a high level. What’s more, PSU’s current players can still transfer without penalty when this season ends.
O’Brien knows the next few years are going to be tough. And so do other prospective employers. That’s where this gets interesting. Jobs like Tennessee and Auburn could be open and O’Brien is going to be on top of every school’s wish list. Auburn is arguably a better job than Penn State without the sanctions, but now, it’s a no brainer.
Don’t expect O’Brien to leave though. According to his contract, he would owe Penn State every cent remaining on his $2.3 million/year contract (although just for the initial five years). But that’s not why he won’t leave. A school like Auburn would help cover that money.
On top of his agent already telling the Altoona Mirror “he’s not going anywhere,” O’Brien’s actions show us he’s not going to leave. Let’s really think about this. O’Brien took the Penn State job with no out-clause. In fact, he did the opposite. He had an automatic extension kick in when the sanctions were announced. And now we see that he signed the contract knowing he would have to pay Penn State a ton of money to leave.
Yes, that’s crazy. But crazy is exactly what Penn State needed. And as long as O’Brien doesn’t change his mind, we’ll be watching an amazing sports movie made about this sometime in the next 10 years.
– The NCAA promises strength of schedule is going to matter more when the four-team playoff begins in the 2014-15 season. Let’s hope so. As it stands right now, Kansas State’s best move this season was ducking the Ducks. KSU and Oregon were supposed to play each other this season, but the Wildcats asked to cancel the series when Oregon wanted to reschedule the 2011 matchup. Last week, after blitzing West Virginia on the road, the Wildcats jumped the Ducks in the BCS standings even though Oregon got an equally-impressive road win at Arizona State last Thursday.
– Speaking of the playoff, it seems there are four teams above the rest: Alabama, Florida, Oregon and Kansas State. Three of those teams could go undefeated and one of them would be left out of the BCS National Championship Game. If only we could start the playoff immediately. Of course, then there are those who say the playoff will cause even more debate. Notre Dame could go undefeated too. In that case, you could have four undefeated teams and the loser of the SEC Championship Game with one loss. You know many SEC supporters would say that loser is still worthy of making the playoff. My take? Then win your conference championship game. Also, it’s much better to be debating the No. 4 and 5 teams than the No. 2 and 3 teams.
– Duke is bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Congratulations on your new job in 2013, David Cutcliffe.
– The winner of this weekend’s game between Michigan and Nebraska will be in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten Legends Division. While neither team looks all that impressive, both would pose an interesting Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. The Wolverines and Badgers are in the midst of a four-year hiatus of playing each other, while Nebraska and Wisconsin played one of the rare entertaining Big Ten games earlier this season.
– It’s been a good run Notre Dame, but Oklahoma will win Saturday.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.