Published Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 10:50 pm / Updated at 11:02 pm
Barfknecht: Respect for O’Brien keeps growing after win at Wisconsin

As much as Auburn’s crazy win over Alabama plus Ohio State’s survival against Michigan reminded us why we love college football, don’t overlook what happened between Penn State and Wisconsin.

Most thought PSU had no business even traveling to Madison for what looked like an end-of-the-season mauling.

The Nittany Lions were 0-3 in road games, getting outscored on average 44-16. They had fewer than 60 scholarship players available because of injuries. And No. 14 Wisconsin had strong hopes of landing a BCS at-large spot.

Oddsmakers responded to all that by making Penn State a 24-point underdog, a spread unequaled for at least three decades.

The Nittany Lions responded by pulling the upset of the Big Ten season, 31-24.

“Our guys, I can flat out tell you, they took offense to the fact that they were 24-point underdogs,” coach Bill O’Brien said, “and that nobody even in State College felt they could win the game. You take those things personally.”

It showed.

Penn State broke a 14-14 halftime tie by scoring the first 17 points of the second half. Wisconsin had allowed three touchdowns in six previous home games. The Nittany Lions scored four.

Also, against a UW defense ranked No. 6 nationally and which hadn’t allowed a play longer than 51 yards, Penn State’s 46th-ranked offense broke off gains of 52, 59, 61 and 68 yards, respectively.

O’Brien said after the game it’s not his style to take note of point spreads.

“But it seems like a lot of you guys thought it was the right line. You’re wrong,” O’Brien said, deftly gigging the media with the right touch.

This out-of-the-blue win will boost membership in the O’Brien Fan Club.

While coaching in a hurricane of duress with a roster depleted by NCAA sanctions over the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal, he has produced records of 8-4 and 7-5 with class, respect and zero excuses.

Whether at Big Ten media days or on the weekly coaches teleconference, O’Brien repeatedly fields tough questions and provides no-bull answers. And if there’s a question he doesn’t want to answer, he won’t lie through it. He’ll tell you he won’t answer it.

What O’Brien has rebuilt at Penn State in two seasons of negative energy is admirable.

His teams are 8-1 after losses. They have won 15 of the past 22 games, in circumstances that would have crushed many programs. And the next excuse we hear from O’Brien will be the first.

That’s why Penn State administrators and fans pray daily that he stays and suitors from the NFL stay away.

Other Monday musings:

Ľ Lots of statements were issued during the weekend in Huskerland. Here’s one from then-Athletic Director Tom Osborne after the 2010 Texas A&M game in which coach Bo Pelini dressed down quarterback Taylor Martinez on the sideline:

“Bo has indicated that events such as those will not happen again. I take him at his word, and agree that it is very important that going forward we do not see a recurrence.”

Ľ Nebraska lost three home football games this season, all by double digits. Other than Bill Callahan losing three in 2007 — also all by double digits — the most recent such mark was in 1968 when a Bob Devaney team went 2-3 at home in going 6-4 overall.

Ľ Ohio State coach Urban Meyer on how he would address the Buckeyes’ move into No. 2 in the polls:

“We’re going to have a team meeting and we’re going to spend about six or eight seconds on that. There will be no conversation about it and no social networking about it.”

Ľ The latest reason the public is done with human polls and ready for a playoff:

Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp, after Ohio State’s 42-41 win at Michigan, moved the Buckeyes down to No. 8 on his Associated Press ballot. He already had them fifth. I know the AP poll isn’t factored into the BCS, but “look-at-me” voting such as this pollutes the system.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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