STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Penn State's game at Wisconsin on Saturday will end one season and begin another.
Coach Bill O'Brien's focus is usually squarely on the upcoming game, but his overall outlook about the Nittany Lions' trip to Madison to face the 14th-ranked Badgers (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) has widened.
"The reason why we're focused on Wisconsin has a little bit to do with the future," O'Brien said. "We have another chance to send these seniors out on a winning note, and that's really important, but it's also a chance for our younger players who are coming back next year to go out there against a very good football team and play well.
"It's an important football game and we're focused on that, but I feel really good about where the program's at."
Penn State (6-5, 3-4) cannot go to a bowl game, but that will again give time for O'Brien to focus on recruiting, like last offseason. Already, the program has 15 verbal commitments that are expected to sign in February.
O'Brien likes his freshman class, as well, saying he doesn't have any "busts."
"(And) there are some really good players that nobody's even seen yet," he said, "who are redshirting."
Penn State will need all of them as they look to re-enter the elite level of the Big Ten next season.
"We're always trying to stay one step ahead," O'Brien said.
The roster will shrink by 17 players on Saturday after a season that opened with much promise — and a 2-0 start.
"We feel real, real good about a lot of veteran players coming back next year," said O'Brien, 14-9 at Penn State. "I think our program, with the two-year sanctions we've been under and limited guys we could offer, stands on pretty solid ground."
A lot of that has to do with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, four times named the Big Ten freshman player of the week. He's been aided by a consistent rushing attack that gained experience through developmental scrimmages.