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Thursday, September 5, 2013
Planning for success: Penn State

By Josh Moyer

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien was asked nearly three dozen questions by the media this week. Only one directly addressed the Eastern Michigan contest.

That wasn't a big surprise. The position-by-position matchups aren't really in question, and this is a relatively easy game for fans to overlook. After all, the Eagles last earned a conference title in 1987 when O'Brien was still playing high school ball. And PSU is more than a three-touchdown favorite.

But you can bet Penn State's head coach isn't taking EMU for granted.

"We have a lot of respect for Eastern Michigan," he said in response to the single question about the Eagles. "And I have a lot of respect for Coach [Ron] English -- they have guys that coached at the University of Michigan with Ron English and Stan Parrish -- so we have a lot of respect for their team."

College football underdogs seem to be on quite the roll lately, and O'Brien isn't about to let his Nittany Lions grow too cocky. Michigan State thwarted EMU rival Western Michigan thanks to a pair of defensive touchdowns. Illinois survived a scare against an FCS team in Southern Illinois, 42-34. And No. 18 Nebraska came away with a 37-34 victory against Wyoming.

And that's not to mention actual upsets like McNeese State running over South Florida and Northern Iowa edging Iowa State.

If ever there was a season not to grow overconfident with overmatched opponents, it's this one -- even if some Penn State players struggled to come up with specific strengths on Eastern Michigan.

"Ummm," defensive tackle Kyle Baublitz said, pausing. "I would say just, they're -- they're a tough team."

O'Brien believed the Eagles weren't all the different from Syracuse, at least scheme-wise with the offense. The Eagles will mix up defensive coverages, spread the ball around and won't play back on their heels.

It's not exactly a tough test -- at least it shouldn't be -- but this will offer the young roster some added confidence and experience. If O'Brien allows Christian Hackenberg to test his arm more against early-season competition, then this has to be the matchup he was waiting for.

This game might be a better indicator of Hackenberg's future talent than Syracuse. But, oh, it should be boring. If Penn State's going to have a successful season then, by everyone's standards, this game shouldn't be close.

Penn State will prepare the same way. O'Brien wouldn't do any differently. He's not the type to overlook an opponent.

But that's precisely why PSU should run over the Eagles.