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                   === Staying the course in Happy Valley ===
 
 By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
 
 Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the heavy hand of the NCAA came
 crashing down on the Penn State football program last year for its involvement
 in the cover-up of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, there were some who
 thought the team would never recover.
 
 The punishment doled out by the governing body of all things related to
 college athletics, which included a $60 million fine, a 4-year bowl ban and a
 significant loss of scholarships, was paramount to the 'death sentence' as it
 would make competing both in the Big Ten Conference and on the national stage
 nearly impossible, at least for the foreseeable future.
 
 In the hopes of minimizing the impact on the current crop of talent on the PSU
 roster, the NCAA allowed anyone wishing to leave the program a one year window
 in which they could do so without adhering to traditional transfer rules, i.e.
 sitting out a season.
 
 Some left; most stayed. And Penn State enjoyed a solid season in 2012, its
 first under head coach Bill O'Brien, by going 8-4 (6-2 in conference), making
 those long associated with the storied program obviously proud to still be so.
 
 With the clock ticking on the NCAA's grace period, it is believed that the
 Nittany Lions won't lose any other significant pieces, thus allowing them to
 concentrate on putting their best foot forward as they look ahead to what
 promises to be another daunting schedule in 2013.
 
 The full impact of Penn State's scholarship restrictions won't likely be felt
 until next season, but for now the current roster has a bunch of solid, if
 unspectacular players, chomping at the bit to get back out on the field and
 compete for the Big Ten Leaders Division title. The Lions aren't eligible to
 play in the conference championship game.
 
 Despite the recent departure of sophomore Steven Bench, who was believed to be
 in the running for the starting quarterback job this fall, O'Brien is
 confident that the bulk of his core players will remain for the duration of
 their college playing days, and spoke after Penn State's spring game last
 month about the relaxed atmosphere a season removed from all the turmoil has
 brought about.
 
 "This is the best time of their lives. They are going to a great university
 and they are playing a spring game in front of thousands of fans, in a
 stadium, in my opinion, the best stadium in the country. It is a fantastic
 atmosphere. I just want these guys to have fun. They deserve to have fun."
 
 Penn State also lost some key players in the most recent NFL Draft, namely
 defensive standouts Jordan Hill, Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, but O'Brien
 knows that while challenges loom on the horizon, his players and staff have
 the right attitude as they set their sights on another season of competition
 on the gridiron.
 
 "It's time for some of our younger guys to help fill the [leadership] role. So
 we'll see how that develops. But this year is a different year, and I think
 we've got some good guys coming back that played a lot for us last year, and
 that will be good for us."
 
 Over the years, Penn State football has been synonymous with greatness. Joe
 Paterno, his legacy forever tarnished, deserved or not, built the program into
 a source of pride for the university, state of Pennsylvania, and everyone ever
 associated with it, and O'Brien is the man entrusted with reestablishing the
 Nittany Lions as a major player, both on and off the field of play. It is a
 task he doesn't take lightly, but embraces all the same.
 
 As the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, and in large
 part due to the success his team experienced in 2012, O'Brien was courted by
 several NFL teams looking to fill their head coaching vacancy, but no job was
 apparently offered as he let it be known almost immediately, that while
 flattered by the attention, Penn State is where he wants to be.
 
 The Nittany Lions return 16 starters and more than 35 lettermen from last
 year's solid team, which helped O'Brien earn both league and national coach of
 the year honors. Still, there is a ton of work to be done and so long as there
 aren't any more surprises over the next few months, PSU could be poised to
 enjoy another successful campaign.
 
 Beyond that however, it's anyone's guess how this once revered program will
 fare.
 
 
 
 05/10 10:27:08 ET

| WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio