Published Sunday, December 1, 2013 at 10:50 pm / Updated at 11:02 pm
FOOTBALL
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

lee.barfknecht@owh.com    |   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.

Read more related stories
PHOTO GALLERY AND VIDEO »

 

< >
SPOTLIGHT »
2013 college football preview
View our 2013 college football preview, a 26-page, three-part section filled with coverage of the Huskers, Big Ten conference and more.
Big Red Bowl Retrospective
See complete historical results, game recaps and photo coverage from the Nebraska Cornhuskers college football bowl game appearances, from the 1941 Rose Bowl up to today.
Big Ten football recruits
The World-Herald's Big Ten recruiting database contains every football recruit that signed with a Big Ten school from 2002 to 2011, complete with color-coded interactive map representations, player information, high-concentrations recruiting clusters and more.
Devaney Center timeline
Check out a World-Herald timeline to see the evolution of memorable moments at the Devaney Center, complete with photos, videos, memorable quotes and more.
Follow OWHbigred on Twitter
Looking for the latest Husker sports news from The Omaha World-Herald and Omaha.com? Follow us on Twitter!
Husker scholarship distribution chart
Want to see how many scholarships NU has invested at each position? Wondering how the Huskers have appropriated their offers by class? Check out our handy chart to look further into how Bo Pelini has built his team.
Husker Signing Day 2013
The World-Herald's top-notch coverage of the Nebraska football's class of 2013, complete with videos, photos, articles, live recruit interviews, interactive components and more.
Husker turnovers: A slippery slope
Bo Pelini has coached 68 games at Nebraska. When NUís turnover margin is positive or even, the Huskers are 35-2. When they lose the turnover battle, theyíre 13-18. Why hasnít Nebraska joined the nationís elite? More than anything, itís turnovers.
Interactive: Bo Pelini's contract
View an interactive PDF of Pelini's revised contract signed by the NU football coach, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Darin Erstad's contract (2012)
View an interactive PDF of NU baseball coach Darin Erstad's contract released in August 2012, complete with brief summaries of the legalese and insight into the document's finer points.
Interactive: Tim Miles' contract
View an interactive PDF of Tim Miles' contract signed by the Nebraska men's basketball coach on May 4, 2012, complete with brief legal explanations, comparisons to other Big Ten coaches and more.
Omaha.com's Big Ten coverage
Delivering the best news coverage and analysis of the Big Ten Conference, from Omaha.com and other top news outlets from around country.
Husker Recruiting: Changes shrink NU's sphere of influence
For decades, the Great Plains represented fertile recruiting ground for Tom Osborne's football program. Restoring that lost tradition won't be easy.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Tokyo Sushi
$5 for $10 or $10 for $20 toward All-You-Can-Eat Sushi Purchase
Buy Now
BRT ON TWITTER »
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT »
< >