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Penn State sized up by opponents

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Ohio coach Frank Solich knows what to expect Sept. 1 when his team is the first to play Penn State.

"There's going to be lots of buzz around the game, and it's going to be for negative reasons," Solich said Tuesday at Mid-American Conference Media Day in Detroit. "The only thing we can do is come in and play good football. There will be a lot of emotions, I'm sure, but we just have to play good football."

Solich's Bobcats are favored to win the MAC and go to a fourth straight bowl — all of which will be deemed irrelevant in the buildup for the opener in State College, Pa.

The question there, and throughout college football, will be what kind of team will the Nittany Lions have in 2012 and beyond after the crippling sanctions imposed by the NCAA?

On the flip side, are opponents eager to play the fallen traditional power? Or, will they bring heavy hearts into games against a program tarnished by the horrific crimes perpetrated by former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky?

After Ohio, the Lions play at Virginia and host Navy and Temple before opening Big Ten play at Illinois.

Virginia is picked fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division after going 8-5 last year. The Midshipmen were 5-7 last season.

Temple, 9-4 with a bowl win a year ago, is leaving the MAC to play in the Big East this season. First, the Owls must play at Penn State — a team they haven't beaten in 37 meetings since 1943. Owls coach Steve Addazio declined to comment.

Coaches Mike London of Virginia and Ken Niumatalolo of Navy said they wouldn't be surprised to see a number of Penn State players transfer, though Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien said in a conference call Tuesday that no current member of the team has indicated they will leave. Regardless of what happens with the Lions' personnel, Niumatalolo said, Navy won't look at them as lesser opponents.

"We're the Naval Academy," he said. "We're always smaller than everybody we play. We don't ever go to anybody saying we're going to have a physical, size or speed advantage. Our mentality is to approach every game the same way."

London said O'Brien's task is extremely difficult because Penn State's first-year coach not only has to try to keep current players from defecting, but he also has to convince prospective recruits to go to a program that is banned from postseason competition for four years.

"I can't even imagine what coach O'Brien is going through right now and having to deal with that," London said. "It makes for a very creative or a tough sell."

Niumatalolo said football coaches are used to dealing with adversity, but not to the extent of O'Brien. "I can't imagine," Niumatalolo said, "what he's going through."

The eight Big Ten coaches who will face the Nittany Lions this season weren't available or declined to comment. They'll meet with reporters at the conference's media day Thursday.

Ohio cornerback Travis Carrie said it will be "real strange" to visit Penn State. The Bobcats, who went 10-4 last season, will be playing the Lions for the first time since 1974, and an ESPN television audience will be watching.

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