Fans traveling to Beaver Stadium on Saturday can be sure of one thing: Penn State will take the field to face Ohio at high noon.
There were times this offseason when that wasn't inevitable. The fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal threatened to scuttle the Bill O'Brien era in Happy Valley before it had a chance to get started. But now, he'll lead the Nittany Lions out of the tunnel and into an uncertain future.
The Bobcats, 10-4 last season and a favorite in the MAC for 2012, will present Penn State's first test. With talented quarterback Tyler Tettleton behind center and his high school teammate Beau Blankenship in the backfield, Ohio will look to push the pace and keep the Lions' defense from getting into position. Penn State will counter with a defensive front seven mostly intact following defections in the wake of NCAA sanctions announced earlier in the summer.
Here are some keys to the game:
When Penn State has the ball...
-The Lions are inexperienced at just about every spot on offense. If veteran quarterback Matt McGloin can calm the new faces, Penn State should have a chance to put up some points and keep pace with the Ohio offense. If he struggles, the offense could struggle with him, and against a team that piles up points at the rate Ohio does, that's not a position the squad wants to be in.
-Keep an eye on how many carries new starting running back Bill Belton gets. The true sophomore converted from wideout to running back in the spring and Bill O'Brien has said Belton should be able to handle 20-25 carries. If he proves his coach correct, it could go a long way toward helping the Lions blunt the loss of Silas Redd to transfer.
-Wideout Allen Robinson has been the talk of fall camp, so it should be interesting to see what he can bring to the table in his first game as a starter. He'll fill the No. 1 receiver spot vacated by Oklahoma transfer Justin Brown, meaning the passing game will be looking to him to make some big plays. If he can show he's capable of handling that pressure, it could signal some much-needed stability at the position after a turbulent offseason.
When Ohio has the ball...
-The Bobcats will look to snap the ball quickly and force Penn State to adjust on the fly. The Lions' ability to do so will largely dictate the amount of damage Tettleton and Co. will be able to inflict. If the Lions can get set relatively quickly, their size and athleticism should make them tough for Ohio to gain much ground. But if Ohio can catch Penn State out of position enough, it could be a long day for new defensive coordinator Ted Roof's crew.
-The secondary enters the season thin after losing four starters from 2011 and four players who were expected to see significant time to dismissals, transfers and injuries. This group needs to avoid injuries at all cost. Preserving at least some level of depth will be vital, so if the defensive backs can escape the Ohio game without any significant injuries, it will have been a successful afternoon for them.
-Ohio will get it's points, so it's critical the defense not only get as many stops as it can but force as many turnovers as it can, too. The inexperienced offense will probably need all the help it can get, so if the defense can set up a few short fields, it will do wonders for Penn State's changes.
Ohio will provide the toughest opening challenge Penn State has seen in quite some time. The Bobcats are far from the pushovers from FCS and the lower levels of the MAC that the Lions have grown accustomed to, so if Penn State doesn't bring the intensity from the start, it could be fighting from behind relatively quickly. The emotions of the day, however, should give the Lions the lift they need and get the Bill O'Brien era off to a winning start, even if only by a slim margin. Pick: Penn State, 23-20