CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The game was scheduled long before it became an event.
Virginia and Penn State meet Saturday in the Nittany Lions’ first road game since the Sandusky Report and the NCAA sanctions that followed. With few big games on the college football landscape, Charlottesville will receive plenty of national attention this week.
But as coaches Bill O'Brien and Mike London addressed the media Tuesday, they worked to downplay off-the-field storylines.
O'Brien tempered any thoughts of a crude or disrespectful crowd, saying the biggest thing is “not what they’re yelling but how loud they are.”
A near-sellout is expected for the game at Scott Stadium, though the visiting Nittany Lions likely will have a sizable cheering section.
Penn State is looking for its first victory after a 24-14 loss to Ohio in last Saturday’s opener. Officially, it would be the first win in 112 games — the NCAA vacated 13 years worth of former coach Joe Paterno’s victories.
Also included in those sanctions were rules that allowed current and committed Penn State athletes to transfer without penalty.
Virginia picked up a commitment from Maryland’s Zach Bradshaw, who had committed to Penn State a month before the sanctions. U.Va. was one of his finalists, and Bradshaw initiated contact with the ‘Hoos.
London emphasized on Monday he didn’t send his coaches to State College the way other programs did.
“You felt bad for coach O'Brien, because here he is, just gets there, finds out what’s going on, and players have a chance not only to leave at that time, but again leave at the end of the season if they don’t go in and play,” London said. “I couldn’t imagine having to deal with that.”
The Cavaliers’ coach is one of a handful of names ESPN tossed out as potential candidates for the Penn State job, though there were never any serious discussions between the two. London chuckled when asked about the rumors.
“It grows legs, and all of a sudden it’s a centipede, and you have all kinds of people talking about it,” he said. “Flattering, perhaps. But at the same time, my focus is here, and this is where I want to be.”
He’s working to prepare Virginia (1-0) for a nationally televised game that could help improve perception of his program.
U.Va. delivered similar results against college football bluebloods last year in games at Miami and Florida State.
“You just have to love the spotlight,” tight end Paul Freedman said. “We talk about that all the time. Just to love the pressure and that situation. I mean, all the eyes are on you, so it’s a great opportunity to show what you have.”
Penn State is used to that spotlight after a tumultuous offseason.
Running back Michael Zordich said he wasn’t fazed when Virginia was listed as a 10-point favorite in the game.
“Underdog pretty much means nothing to us anymore,” he said. “I think we’ve been there for a while.”
Read more about the Cavaliers at TimesDispatch.com