So far, recruiting has been good, especially given the unprecedented circumstances of the past year. Joining Breneman in January will be junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson, a quarterback who figures to compete with Steven Bench now that record-setting starter Matt McGloin is out of eligibility.
Penn State also has a verbal commitment from blue-chip quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg of Virginia, though he is not expected to join the team until this summer.
“You never know until guys sign on the dotted line,” O'Brien said last week about recruiting. “But we feel good where we're at.”
As for the current Nittany Lions, NCAA rules prevent coaches from overseeing offseason workouts, though coaches can determine what areas need to be improved in the ramp up to March and spring practice. O'Brien said his coaching staff is looking at improving flexibility and speed, while reducing body fat and creating more muscle mass.
“Is there a disadvantage to not having bowl practice? Certainly,” O'Brien said. “But there's also the advantage of not having them.”
In that respect, O'Brien said, that means concentrating on academics to finish the semester. One-on-one meetings with players focus on grades and requirements for majors these days, as well as “how can they improve in football and in their role on the team,” he said.
Unofficially, players can get together on their own for workouts. That will be especially important in the passing game, for instance, with a bevy of returning receivers. Record-setting wideout Allen Robinson, for example, has to get acclimated to a new starting quarterback.
For McGloin, this is a bittersweet time. Surely, he will miss being on the field, but he can also walk away knowing he did all he could in his final season. For now, he's busy handing the leadership responsibilities on offense to Bench — the only scholarship quarterback on the team.
“I've told Steven, it's not my team any more. You have to take over, you have to manage stuff,” McGloin said this month. “He knows that. I'll be around helping him out, getting ready to take over.”
Mauti is moving on, too, after a left knee injury sidelined him for the season finale against the Badgers. His father, Rich — himself a former Nittany Lion — has declined to offer more detail on his son's injury. But he did say that the younger Mauti was going to get back into shape and will prepare for the NFL draft closer to home in New Orleans.
But the work he'll leave behind in State College will never be forgotten. After a draining 2012 season — both emotionally and physically — Michael Mauti will clearly be known in Penn State annals as one of the program's best leaders.
“It's been a great experience up there,” Rich Mauti said. “It's just time to move on.”