Column: What Another Upset Could Mean for PSU, O’Brien

Story posted October 25, 2013 in CommRadio, Sports by Maddie Brightman

An upset against long time Big Ten rival and No. 4 Ohio State would mean nothing but happiness for the fans of Nittany Nation. In the eyes of a Penn Stater, bragging rights against the Buckeyes and winning three of the last four at the Horseshoe could never be seen as bad thing, right?

If Bill O’Brien and the Nittany Lions leave Columbus this Saturday with another win against a nationally ranked opponent, Penn State fans might not be as happy as they anticipated.

Two weeks ago, Penn State won a thrilling four-overtime game against an undefeated Michigan team in front of 108,000 fans wearing white in Beaver Stadium. The victory was an instant classic and one that will live in Penn State lore.

The upset against the formerly ranked Wolverines was a shining sun beating down on the dark cloud hanging over the Penn State football program. For almost 23 months, Penn State football had faced every dilemma imaginable and the future wasn’t looking bright for the Nittany Lions.

The win against Michigan had the media talking about Penn State once again, but this time, the focus wasn’t on sanctions or some scandal. Instead people were actually talking about football and the talented players in Penn State’s program.

The game provided important positive coverage for the team as whole, but brought more attention to head coach Bill O’Brien, placing him even higher on the national stage.

The formerly unknown Patriots assistant has become a pretty popular guy since arriving in Happy Valley. O’Brien can be credited in restoring pride and excitement for the football program, after it was nearly annihilated by the NCAA.

After finishing the 2012 season with an unexpected 8-4 record, a small team and limited scholarships, O’ Brien proved he was the real deal.

Following an up-lifting season in Happy Valley, O’Brien was named Big Ten Coach of the Year and was awarded the 2012 Bear Bryant College Coach of the Year Award. Teams in the NFL quickly took note of O’Brien’s coaching talent and leadership ability, and in January of 2013 he was interviewing for head coaching positions with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.

Attention for Bill O’Brien was nothing but high following the win against Michigan, imagine what could happen if he were to leave Columbus this weekend with another victory. The “O’Brien’s Lions” and “Fear the Chin” shirts might cease to exist in Happy Valley.

The Nittany Lions are coming off a full bye week of rest and a thrilling win against Michigan. Penn State could easily continue the momentum at the Horseshoe this weekend and come out strong against a Buckeye team that trailed Iowa last Saturday at the half.

Penn State has won two of the last three meetings in Columbus, after having not beaten Ohio State at home since 1978.

National TV coverage, a primetime game, a matchup against a ranked Big Ten Rival, and playing in a stadium with over 100,000 fans...sound familiar?

The game this Saturday is set to a very similar stage the Nittany Lions were a part of two weeks ago. Although the numbers don’t logically add up for Penn State to win this weekend, there are some emblematic signs from above, suggesting that Bill O’Brien and his team might come back to State College victorious.

And lets face it, this wouldn’t be the first big upset in college football this year.

If Bill O’Brien were to complete two upsets in a row, not only would the media take note of this thrilling accomplishment, but so would every team in the NFL, regardless of if they are in need of a head coach or not. People would begin to see how well O’Brien fits the puzzle together with the few pieces that he has to work with. And struggling NFL teams in search of a new head coach would hope he could replicate this with their franchises.

Bill O’Brien’s value to the Penn State football program and the university as a whole is so important it almost can’t be measured. O’Brien is making $3.2 million this year, however his compensation is set to drop next season, before it rises again in 2015. Although O’Brien has received a significant increase in salary since leaving New England, there are many other college coaches making more than him.

This weekend’s opponent Urban Meyer currently earns $4.4 million a year and Michigan coach Brady Hoke makes $3.25 million annually.

It’s possible for O’Brien to realize what fellow Big Ten coaches are making and demand to make more based on his highly perceived value. Or, he could choose to leave college football all together and return to the NFL where a quarter of the head coaches have salaries of more than $6 million---nearly double of what O’Brien currently earns.

The NFL is starting a trend of hiring younger coaches and O’Brien could potentially be the next one added to the list. With his high-alleged value and unexpected successes at Penn State it is very likely for a NFL team to pay him more than the average $3.25 million salary.

But when it’s all said and done, Bill O’Brien loves Penn State just as much as the people of State College love him.

In his recent sit down interview with Willie Jungels of the Centre County Report, O’Brien remarked on how much he loves the “fantastic student body, strong school system of State College, the university’s fabulous setting and atmosphere, and the phenomenal education Penn State provides.”

O’Brien loves coming to work every day and living in a town where he has been warmly embraced. Regardless of the attention and interest he has received from the NFL, O’Brien has truly shown fondness and loyalty for Penn State.

After interviewing with the Eagles and Browns last year, O’Brien chose to continue coaching for the Nittany Lions. He has helped “restore the roar” and instill pride in the Penn State football program once again, and it is very possible he could continue to do this for many years to come.

Penn State could easily leave Columbus this weekend empty handed and the flock of NFL franchises attacking Bill O’Brien could slowly dwindle down. Penn Staters could mourn the loss to Ohio State, but ease their mind of thoughts of losing another great coach. Or they could continue the momentum, record another upset, and plan accordingly.

Maddie Brightman is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email