- Associated Press - Friday, August 31, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA. (AP) - A season of change is finally about to begin at Penn State.

New coach. New offense. A new look to the classic uniform.

Ohio visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday for the historic season opener. Time to play football again following an offseason no one could have imagined.

“It’s going to be very emotional, not only for me, but for everyone in that stadium,” senior linebacker Mike Mauti said. “Finally getting back to work … giving the fans something to cheer about and that’s what we’re all looking forward to the most.”

Anger still simmers among the fan base for landmark penalties levied by the NCAA on the program for the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. New coach Bill O'Brien and players that had nothing to do with the scandal took the brunt of the punishment.

No bowl games for four years. Significant scholarship cuts. Five years probation. All those lofty preseason goals like playing for a BCS game are off the table.

It doesn’t mean Penn State is playing without a purpose, though.

“We’re playing for pride, playing for respect,” said Gerald Hodges, who combines with Mauti to form one of the top outside linebacker tandems in the Big Ten. “No matter what you’re going to do to us, we’re going to get back up.”

Clearly, this isn’t the situation that O'Brien expected to inherit when he replaced the late Joe Paterno in January.

But the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots has deftly navigated an extraordinary first eight months on the job. With no previous ties to Penn State, O'Brien is firmly focused on the future while also displaying sensitivity to the problem of child abuse.

Players’ names are being added to the once-simple blue-and-white Penn State jerseys. A blue ribbon will be added to the back of helmets to show support for victims of abuse.

With Mauti and fullback Michael Zordich leading the way, more than 90 percent of the Nittany Lions chose to stick with Penn State after the sanctions were announced and the NCAA gave players the option to seek an immediate transfer.

In return, fans have showed an outpouring of support for players who returned.

“We’re just the football program that’s trying to be a part of making sure that we go out there and play well,” O'Brien said, “but also help the community as much as we possibly can.”

A year ago, Paterno was entering his 46th and final season as Penn State head coach. On Saturday, it will be O'Brien charging out of the tunnel with the team to begin his rookie campaign.

Story Continues →