I get the feeling that Bill O'Brien is a lot more confident and sure of himself than I am — something about what it takes to be a successful coach at almost any level, much less at one of the NCAA's biggest programs — but I wouldn't blame him for walking around Penn State, constantly looking over his shoulder for yet something else to go wrong. This mess isn't his. It belongs to those currently in jail or embroiled in legal trouble (and the victims, of course, the ones who it really and unfairly belongs to for the rest of their lives). But to stroll into your dream job as everything seems to be falling apart, with the Mark Emmert delivering the modern day equivalent of vigilante justice, 15 players — some expected to start — transferring from the program, and the drama that goes along with one of the biggest sexual abuse scandals in history, it has to be stressful.
Given all of that, I can't help but stand back in awe of what O'Brien has done thus far. The season started with a thud; two losses came at the hands of teams that Penn State doesn't lose to. Then the Nittany Lions rattled off five wins in a row. On the season Penn State finished with a better conference record than all but three teams. This is to go along with a 2013 recruiting class that includes a five-star quarterback prospect, and a 2014 class that is currently one of the better groups in the conference. All the while, recruiting with three years of postseason sanctions still hanging like a yoke around the neck of the program.
It is hard to sit back and come up with a good approximation of what the next few years in Happy Valley are going to be like. This kind of NCAA punishment is to a large extent unprecedented. Major college programs depend on a great deal of depth which the scholarship reductions will limit, and recruiting is still driven in part by a team's ability to succeed on the field (and go to bowl games). There are going to be struggles for Penn State.
However, Bill O'Brien just might be the right guy for the job. His first year and a half on campus have given fans a reason for optimism, and while Penn State is walking into the dark abyss of Mark Emmert's
unilateral motion to save face idea of justice, it looks like there is just enough light on the other side that Bill O'Brien may be able to get this program through before too long.
But rest assured, things will get worse before they get better. That could start this year as the team either breaks in a true freshman quarterback or one of three completely inexperienced options. It could be because of a lack of depth caused by transfers that have already robbed the Nittany Lions of players expected to be starting at this point.
For now, we all just have to sit back and watch this unfold, knowing that there isn't really much of a historical comparison or set of expectations for when a traditional power has its legs chopped out from under it.
Like I said before, if I were in O'Brien's shoes, I would be a mess with worry and stress over things outside my control. If he is stressing at all, he hasn't shown it yet.