PSU?could really change its fortunes with a win

In an attempt to move past last week’s debacle at Indiana, and focus solely on turning the season around beginning tonight against Michigan, Bill O’Brien has spent a significant amount of time challenging his team on the opportunity that awaits.

And it does.

While the NCAA restrictions and typical transition from one coaching staff to another have contributed to some rebuilding reality, the Nittany Lions know they can’t win a Big Ten championship.

But they can have a signature moment.

That came in the season finale last year against Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium, a euphoric celebration that let out a year’s worth of frustration, even though it only resulted in an 8-4 record.

Tonight’s game, against a white-out backdrop of 108,000-plus – could be Penn State’s best chance to create that kind of moment and get the season back on track after troubling losses to Central Florida and the Hoosiers.

The Lions have yet to play consistently well all season.

They’ve gotten off to too many slow starts offensively and defensively have been an even bigger disappointment as they’ve been unable to force turnovers (its sixth turnovers gained rank 11th in the Big Ten) and been lit for 78 points in their two losses.

One thing seems certain: If they can’t hang with and beat a Wolverine team that, though 5-0, struggled to defeat Akron and UConn, the PSU camp won’t take any optimism to their next game – at Columbus, following yet another open date, on Oct. 26.

The ability of last year’s team to be so strong mentally came from an outstanding group of leaders, four of which – Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill and Matt McGloin – are drawing an NFL paycheck.

How well leaders have emerged during these challenging times will help determine whether the Lions can avoid limping into November with a 3-4 record.

Despite being a Big Ten newcomer, and a guy who likes to fire the ball around, O’Brien has convinced his team today’s game will be won by an old-school mentality.

“They’re the old, throwback Michigan,” center Ty Howle said.

“You can feel the traditional roots,” linebacker Glenn Carson said. “It’s one of those classic Big Ten matchups.”

Penn State will always be judged to a large degree of how it competes with the upper echelon of the Big Ten – Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

The Michigan series has been unique in that it’s featured streaks and never gone back and forth, and it’s been occasionally interrupted by the schedule maker.

The Wolverines won the first matchup at Beaver Stadium in 1993 – when they whined about crowd noise and actually coaxed a penalty, the first ominous sign of officiating to come – before Penn State won three straight. Lloyd Carr took over the Wolverines and won nine in a row before Joe Paterno won three straight (2008-10).

This is O’Brien’s first chance to put his stamp on the series, and as he said, “It would be crazy for me to say this is just another game.”

Because it’s not.

There has been more on the line in the past, certainly, but even though Penn State is 3-2, this is still Michigan, and a chance for the Nittany Lions to start a new season.