IRVING, Texas — Penn State receiver Justin Brown's junior season ended Jan. 2, 2012, in a TicketCity Bowl loss to Houston inside Dallas' Cotton Bowl Stadium.
A little over one year later, Oklahoma receiver and newly minted Penn State graduate Justin Brown will end his college football career Friday in the Cotton Bowl game against Texas A&M at Arlington's Cowboys Stadium.
The last few whirlwind months turned out pretty well for Brown, who bolted for Norman in the aftermath of the Penn State child abuse scandal, and for Oklahoma, which added a talented, mature difference maker to a wide receiver group in need of one.
“I had high expectations for myself, but I didn't know where it was gonna lead, coming into a new offense and a new team,” Brown said. “I got to give all the credit to my teammates. They made it real comfortable for me to come in and contribute.”
The big, fast senior wide receiver certainly contributed on the field. He enters the Cotton Bowl as Oklahoma's second-leading receiver, with 66 catches, 822 yards and four touchdowns, all career-highs for Brown, who spent his first three college football seasons in an offense that didn't allow him to showcase his abilities.
“We had a good offense; it just wasn't focused on throwing the ball,” Brown said of his time under Joe Paterno at Penn State.
“There's different philosophies ... coaches have different philosophies on winning games, and we won a lot of games. You can't knock an offense just off of that.”
Junior Kenny Stills, who is Oklahoma's leading receiver this year said the season would've gone “in a totally different direction” without Brown and junior Jalen Saunders, who transferred from Fresno State.
“So much experience coming in, and confidence, and (quarterback) Landry (Jones) having confidence in them,” Stills said. “Landry would put the ball out there, and you would know that Jalen would make a play, and the same with Justin.”
But in the leadership department, Brown's contribution to Oklahoma might have ultimately been just as important.
Three veteran receivers were suspended indefinitely in May, leaving OU's receiver group — expected to be a team strength — dangerously inexperienced. Before Brown joined the team, Stills was OU's only active wideout with a career reception in major college football.
When Brown arrived in early August, Sooner co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel clearly saw the transfer's physical ability. But with transfers — particularly ones arriving in the abrupt, difficult fashion Brown did — coaches can never be 100 percent certain of how everything will work out.
“You never know how it all fits together until they're there in the middle of it,” Heupel said. “Everything happened fast with him, so maybe even a little bit less.
“The thing that was surprising for me was just how mature he was as a person. How he handled himself every moment of every day — in the meeting room, on the practice field. I think, in large part because of that, he transitioned well.”
One roadblock that nearly halted Brown from transferring was his anticipated December graduation. A move to Oklahoma was originally expected to require added coursework for Brown to finish on time.
But Sooners coach Bob Stoops hatched a plan that proved successful: Brown took fall classes at OU, transferred them back to Penn State and graduated in December as planned.
“I'm just gonna get my diploma mailed out,” he said when asked if he attended Penn State's fall commencement ceremony.
“I didn't want to get all into the distractions like that. It would've been a little too much.”
The Penn State graduate and Oklahoma football player will spend the next several weeks celebrating the two universities he'll forever be associated with.
“Penn State was really good to him,” said Joel Brown, Justin's father. “I'm glad he's got this opportunity to go back there and get his degree.”