Season of change arrives for Penn State football

Associated Press Published: August 31, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Once the model of stability, Penn State football has been thrust into a rebuilding project unlike any other.

So many changes in such a short time.

Scandal led to the ouster of Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno after 46 seasons and his replacement by Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. That, in itself, would have been enough to get people talking in Happy Valley.

Now, O'Brien must embark on what might be the toughest assignment ever for a rookie coach: overcoming the landmark NCAA sanctions for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case as it continues to play out in the university community.

Here's a look at some of Penn State's changes, big and small, as the Nittany Lions get ready to host Ohio on Saturday in a historic season opener:

___

THEN: Joe Paterno.

NOW: Bill O'Brien.

Paterno was famously known as "JoePa" around these parts. No such nickname — yet — for O'Brien, though he's quickly won over the massive, passionate fan base with his no-nonsense attitude and offensive acumen. Blue "Bill-Lieve" T-shirts are now selling in downtown stores once stocked with Paterno gear. O'Brien has deftly navigated his first eight months of the job at every stressful twist and turn. He's displayed sensitivity for child abuse and promised that players would be involved in raising awareness of the issue. At the same time, his sights are set on the future of the program.

___

THEN: Numbers on jerseys.

NOW: Names — and numbers — on jerseys.

Penn State's blue-and-white, no-name uniforms were among the most recognizable in sports for the classic, simple look. Well, that look has been tweaked, folks. Names are going on the back of the uniforms, and O'Brien feels the change was important for several reasons. More than anything, he wants to let the public know which players stuck with the program following the strict NCAA penalties, including a four-year bowl ban and significant scholarship cuts. More than 90 percent of the roster stayed after the NCAA handed down its punishment July 23. A blue ribbon also will be placed on the back of helmets to show support for child abuse victims.

___

THEN: Clean-cut, fresh faces inside helmets.

NOW: Rough, gruff, tough faces inside helmets.

Don't expect a lumberjack convention on Saturday — some players, after all, aren't even old enough to grow much facial hair — but the Nittany Lions are permitted these days to show up unshaven. It's all a part of O'Brien's outlook and it allows the players to be themselves a little more. And why not? You had to be clean-shaven under Paterno, and early results say the players like the new style. They're even allowed to wear baseball caps in and around the football building.

___

THEN: "Paternoville."

NOW: "Nittanyville."

The plaza outside the student gate at Beaver Stadium is home to a makeshift tent city with fans camping out for a chance to get to prime seats. It's such an event that the campers even have their own student organization. The Week 1 camp has already begun, but with a new name. "Paternoville" is now "Nittanyville." Organization vice president Jeff Lowe said the name change had been in the works for a while so as to place the focus squarely on football, and to eliminate any potential awkward moments if, for instance, O'Brien visited a site named after his predecessor. Lowe said the group checked in with Joe Paterno's son, former quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, to tell him why they were making the switch, and that the younger Paterno backed the decision.



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