Devon Edwards of Black Shoe Diaries was kind enough to answer a few questions for us:
1. Give us your nutshell thoughts on the first year of the Bill O'Brien era and how you feel about him as the long-term leader of your program.
O'Brien has done a lot of things extremely well, none moreso than simply calming things down when the sanctions first hit. Only a few players did transfer, despite the warnings of a mass exodus, and this season has, to a large degree, felt like football as normal at Penn State, and for BOB to have brought that sense of normalcy back so quickly is nothing short of miraculous. In terms of his actual coaching, I love that he's been more aggressive, especially in road games, than the past regime, and while there have been a lot of growing pains, you can tell that he's squeezing as much as he can out of a thin, undermanned team that nobody expected much out of even before the NCAA effectively crippled the program. What he's done with Matt McGloin, especially, is remarkably encouraging, given that one 5-star blue-chip QB has already signed on to play for O'Brien, and you can imagine that trend continuing for as long as he's here.
Your season began with disappointing losses to Ohio and Virginia, but you have bounced back nicely since then, losing to two very good teams and beating everyone else. What is your explanation for the turnaround?
If those games are played after the first couple weeks, Penn State wins, and pretty comfortably, too. Penn State still wasn't sure what it wanted to be--defensively, Ted Roof hadn't yet developed a scheme that maximized his talent at linebacker (seriously, against spread-offense Ohio, he had Hodges and Mauti blitzing every other down off the edge!), offensively, the hurry-up "NASCAR" package hadn't been installed yet, and all that said, it took Sam Ficken missing 4 field goals and an extra point for Penn State to lose at UVA. It doesn't help that the Big Ten's really down this year, but the reason Penn State's looked so much better is that O'Brien and Roof and the rest of the staff have figured out how to put their playmakers in the best position to succeed--and at times, discovered who those playmakers are (RB Zach Zwinak didn't touch the ball the first few weeks, and he's been virtually unstoppable the last few).
3. How is recruiting going? I see that Rivals ranks Penn State #41. Do you have any reason to think that the reality is going to be better than that? Worse?
Recruiting is still a mixed bags. Many of the top prospects who'd committed to Penn State before the NCAA came down on us with the sanctions have been steadfast in their commitments, and when that includes a pair of blue-chip guys in TE Adam Breneman and QB Christian Hackenberg, it brings the whole class up. It would be a lie to say that this won't hurt Penn State's ability to recruit, and considering that Penn State can only take 15 kids per class makes it all the more imperative that the staff not miss on too many scholarships. I think there will always be a couple kids who are willing to stick out the next few dark years (and after this year, they should get incrementally better, since that's 1 fewer lost bowl game for the recruits), but it's tough and weird to be fighting with Purdue and Minnesota rather than Michigan and Ohio State for prospects; still, before the sanctions, O'Brien had been a monster on the recruiting trail, and if anyone could do a good job with the cards he's been dealt, it's BOB.
5. Finally, a basketball question. What can we expect from Pat Chambers and his team in his second season?