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Penn State has a bye week, then resumes Big Ten conference play Oct. 20 against Iowa, the start of what O'Brien calls the “meat of our schedule.” He’s stayed in touch with Belichick throughout, less for advice about X’s and O’s than for guidance on how a rookie head coach should conduct himself.

“He’s a competitor through and through,” Belichick said in an email. “Penn State hired a great person and a solid football man. I’m not surprised in the least at any success he’s had.”

O'Brien, though, isn’t taking anything for granted. He punctuates every other sentence about the Nittany Lions’ success with the words “to this point.”

“When the Penn State job opened up, I weighed the positives and negatives. It offers a great education, great football, a great stadium _ those are all things I believe in,” he said. “And even though some tough times had just occurred and there are bound to be tough times ahead, I knew that down the road this could be a special place again.”

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.