Is Bill O’Brien Doomed From the Start?

There are a number of ways to predict the win-loss record for a football team. None of them is anywhere near perfect but all show some merit. One method is to look at returning starters. Another is to look at the schedule and where and when the toughest games are played. One novel approach is to split the previous year's schedule into big wins, close wins, close losses, and big losses. The idea is that a team that pounded you a year ago will do so again. Teams that you pounded you'll likely beat again. But the close games can easily go the other way. Bill O'Brien inherits a team at Penn State that went 5-1 a year ago in close games (i.e. those decided by a touchdown or less). If he's not as lucky (on the field) as Paterno was a year ago, that could cost him two or three victories. Not the way you want to start a quest to fill the shoes of a legend.


O'Brien can be grateful that Penn State won't play Alabama again this year. In fact, the Nittany Lions might be favored in all four of their non-conference games (Ohio, at Virginia, Navy, Temple). They narrowly beat Temple on the road a year ago, though. The Owls finished the year strong while Penn State was falling apart. The opposing slate is tough enough that no game is guaranteed. Anything less than four wins will probably offend the fans.

PSU will open the conference slate at Illinois, who they beat by just three points a year ago. The new coach in Champaign is probably more of an upgrade than the one in Happy Valley (i.e. replacing Ron Zook is a wee bit easier than Joe Paterno), so it's not hard to picture a loss to the Illini in that one. While competitive, Northwestern did lose by ten points in Evanston a year ago. Since it's homecoming for Penn State, you'd give an edge to the Nittany Lions - but not an insurmountable one. PSU beat Iowa by ten points in Happy Valley a year ago. Now they have to play a night game in Iowa City. Maybe the Nittany Lions escape with a win, but probably not an easy one.

Next up would be Ohio State at home. Not only was that a close victory for PSU in Columbus, but OSU was 2-6 in close games a year ago. So if you expect the Nittany Lions to be a little less lucky, you'd also expect the Buckeyes to be be a whole lot luckier. Urban Meyer is also probably a major upgrade from Luke Fickell. Sorry Luke, just sayin'.

The road game at Purdue looks like a victory. The game at Nebraska does not. While the Huskers win was a close one a year ago, you can expect NU to be favored again in this one. Indiana played surprisingly close to Penn State a year ago in the Hoosier State. If PSU loses to them at home though, O'Brien will deserve the heat he gets. Senior day will see the Nittany Lions host Wisconsin. The Badgers stomped Penn State last year, so a lot needs to change for PSU to win this time.

If you give PSU a loss to Illinois, Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, they finish 8-4 (4-4 in conference) just a game worse than last season. But throw in unlucky breaks against Temple and lowly Indiana and they are staring at 6-6 (3-5). You can't entirely rule out a loss at Iowa, hosting Northwestern or even traveling to Purdue either.

What happens to O'Brien's rebuilding project if he goes 3-5 in the Big Ten? Paterno survived four losing seasons in five years (only two of which were losing seasons in conference). He also had two national championships and a bunch of bowl game trophies. Even if O-Brien finishes where the Nittany Lions might have anyway, he still may look bad just because he doesn't get the breaks that JoePa did a year ago. That's no way to follow a legend. Frank Solich's 9-4 debut caused enough carping and that was after Tom Osborne retired voluntarily. Osborne benefitted from the flea-kicker in 1997. Solich saw Eric Crouch get his facemask twisted 180 degrees without a flag in 1998. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, even if you're very very good.

O'Brien may find that out the hard way.

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Comments 13 comments so far

Yes, it is. The only thing that matters for Penn State is he’s not one of theirs, which will likely lead to him getting fired, even if he’s improving the program. Then Penn State will go hire an under qualified alum because “he understands Penn State”, they will sink themselves even lower. Heck, Penn State fans would think they’re loosing because their coaches change the uniforms.

Penn State NEEDS to change their uniform! Haven’t they done a good job of recruiting for this class though?
Usually it takes a coach or 2…or 3, before an iconic program gets back to anywhere near where they were. Alabama floundered for years before hiring Saben.

Phil Steele’s blog today indicates that Penn State is a huge question mark mainly because they only return 17 total O-line starts.  That’s the second lowest in the country.  It doesn’t seem like they have the blue chip and highly touted players to fill in the open spots either.

That’s because they are perceived…and are…dull and boring. Their uniforms are horrible and if you don’t think that makes a difference notice how Oregon is doing…far better than us or Penn State. It dosn’t take the place of winning, but if you aren’t huge winners, and we aren’t right now, everything helps. They have the same problems we have in recruiting except there are tons more players coming out of Pennsilvania than out of Nebraska.
Recruits today like to go to the sexy schools. Not dull and boring schools. Being at a Nebraska or Penn State makes it difficult to recruit for this reason. People, players, almost everybody likes to be where the action is. Looks count. I love out helmits but our overall uniform could use a little updating…maybe pinstripes or something like West Virginia has only in a red and white theme. Gotta get rid of the standard leg stripes and jersey stripes…God it looks so 1920’s! It might help recruiting…just sayin’!

I think it’s going to be rough sledding for the Lions. Probably not as bad as our Clownahan years but it won’t be fun for them.

They’ll bounce back sooner or later but it very well may take awhile.

PE - Alabama has some boring and dull uniforms. Doesn’t look like they are doing too bad. Oregon is lucky they haven’t had anyone to contend with other than Stanford. They’ll have less ease getting to the Rose Bowl with USC back in the mix.  The whole argument regarding uniforms and recruiting advantages is ridiculous. Most of Oregon’s success comes from their amazing facilities and a decent talent pool. Yes Nebraska needs to recruit better but changing the uniform will hardly impact that. It starts with the coaches.


Being in the marketing field its obvious that Oregons uniform changes are an advantage in the game of recruiting.Maybe it dosnt matter to you but in todays society and most before it , guys that age do get influenced by the new , in thing.. YOu also said that most of their success comes from amazing facilities and decent talent pool but how do they get their talent pool to campus..?? ITs because Oregons brand appears to be fun and exciting, and their uniforms are part of their brand… Now Im not saying that the uniforms are whats getting them the recruits, but I do believe they are helping get more athletes on campus.. and ORegon is an extreme as far as influence on student athletes by uniforms.. ONe or two little changes through the year isnt really going to have an impact on recruits but the fact that ORegons relationship with NIKE can get them new uniforms each week, is a definate advantage.. PERIOD

I agree with Twauto22. I htink even if we came out with a new uniform even for one game like it is planned this year, it shows that we are up with things and are progressive. Again, it may not have anything to do with how good our school is or our football team is, but the impression is, or perception if you will, is that we are right there with the the teams like Oregon. Not a big thing but we need all the help we can get. We’e not getting any of the big recruits we’re going after. No kid wants to go to his grandpas school.  Churches have the same problem these days so the churches that are popular now are catering to what people want…to be focused on todays world and how it all related to them. I guess I’m just saying we don’t have beautiful beaches and great weather to entice recruits, and no recruiting pools close to us, and we don’t happen to be going to a lot of BCS bowls lately so we need every bit of edge we can get in recruiting. It is the lifeblood of any team. And I’m afraid that without stepping our recruiting we won’t have players like N. Suh or Eric Haag coming here and we become the next Iowa.

If it’s such a big advantage then why doesn’t Oregon recruit better? Their recruiting rankings are about approximate to their talent pool. Recruiting is based on geography and coaches first and foremost. Good coaches get kids to come play for them regardless of what they’re wearing or where they are at. Don’t tell me Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge or Tallahassee are so much more impressive than Lincoln. It starts with the coaches and thinking anything else is looking for quick fixes to long term problems. If Osborne could get the guys to come from FL, CA and TX why can’t Bo? Hire a known recruiter and get it over with.

Oregon does recruit well…they always seem to come up with top players and lots of them. All those uniforms attract the young guys. They love it. It’s attention. Thats why they are so good at the moment…AND they have a great coach. Coaches don’t get kids in…great salesmen that happen to also be coaches get kids to come. And the more help the better…like great location, tradition, currently winning, all that. But it is salesmanship. Flat out. And thats why Bo hasn’t really been all that effective on the recruiting trail. He’s not a salesman. I kknow because I’ve been in sales all my life practically, and in sales you have to know how to talk well and that just aint Bo. He’s not a closer. And appearently his reputation as a defensive guru isn’t getting the job done either. He’s just not polished enough.
The comparisons to Osborn are misguided. First off, he was a huge winner and playing in the biggest of stages all the time. Second, they didn’t have the scholorship limitations back then. Everything has changed now with parity. But make no mistake, he was a salesman…in sheeps clothes maybe, but he was a salesman. 
We are not suggesting changing the uniforms and it’s all fixed…far from it. But you need some kind of advantage if your not a big winner. So recruiting is not going to get any better until we start winning big, but how do you do that without really great players? It’s a which comes first scenario…the chicken or the egg. And I agree, why don’t we hire a great known recruiter and be done with it…we certainly can afford it. Washington did btw. I don’t even know if you can hire just a recruiter can you? There are NCAA based coaching limitations that limit how many coaches can be hired. I’ve suggested this very same thing in fact…but oh no, don’t listen to me! LOL.
I think it’s fairly safe to say that no matter how good you are at developing talent and coaching in general, if you don’t have top tier talent somewhere on the team, your not going to be all that good, at least not on a consistent basis. And that’s where were at now frankly. Maybe Bill Calahan would come back and be our recruiter…say what you want about his fit at Nebraska not working, the guy could flat out recruit. Far better than these clowns now. He brought in Suh, Prince, Haag, Gomes, all those guys that made Pelini look so good. But Ross Els recruiting coordinator? Are you kidding! That guy is about as sharp as a marble. Ya I’d go with him if USC, Alabama or Florida were calling. We need to get someone in there who can bring the heat…some power!

Oregon - Average recruiting class over last 4-5 years is 16. About relative to the talent they have to work with considering Northern California and Oregon as their primary footprint. Great coaches can recruit and coach the talent up. Again Oregon is not out recruiting the big boys by any means so I don’t buy the uniforms argument but maybe I’m just being stubborn. Kids are fickle and for every recruit that likes the uniforms there are plenty that think they are ugly. Osborne was used as a comparison based solely on his ability to recruit talent and maximize their potential. You’re right about Billy C he did bring talent in. I totally agree that a dedicated, proven recruiter needs to be brought in. As for whether it’s allowed throw the guy on the D side where Bo has more control anyways. I think we are on the same page in a general sense and most definitely in agreement on that somethings got to change.

Well 16 is better than were doing! LOL. And Oregon is a great example of a team that has pretty good recruiting but great teams. It’s because they have a crack coaching staff that is light years ahead of us. “Great coaches can recruit and coach the talent up”. Truer words were never spoken. And that is exactly what we lack. I think Bo is an excellent coach and will over the next few years earn everybodies faith. But he simply cannott bring in the talent as you said. Something needs to change. And your right too about Osborne…the guy could get players here from anywhere and coach them up…teams always knew they were going to play a very physical well disciplined team with lots of grat (not just good) players when they faced us and they would probably loose. It’s not that way anymore but were climbing back. The uniforms builds excitement…the “in” thing. That’s all.
Recruiting is, as I see it, is our biggest problem. I think this staff is good enough to fix the coaching problems we have now that have plagued us…turnovers, penalties, lack of discipline, lack of consistancy, lack of tenaciousness, but I don’t think they are good enough to recruit well enough to get us to the next level. It will have to be with teh talent they are able to get, which isn’t too bad but again, not great. Too soon to tell on a lot of these guys though, we could be wrong and I hope so. Maybe the next N Suh is there now, who knows. Somehow it has to get better. We are afterall Nebraska. The problem is, it’s been so long since we’ve been relevent, that the kids now don’t know anything about us. They just hear about who’s winning and want to go there and you can’t blame them.

PE - Very true. Pretty much agree on all fronts.

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