Penn State's players are focused on Wisconsin this week because classes are out and they have little else to do this week. Bill O'Brien is focused on Wisconsin because, well, it's the next game on the schedule.
O'Brien likes what the Nittany Lions are accomplishing on the recruiting trail as well as in the football complex.
"But the reason we're focused on Wisconsin has a little bit to do with the future," Penn State's coach said Tuesday.
The Nittany Lions will finish O'Brien's second season at 7-5 or 6-6 depending upon the result of Saturday's game against a 9-2 Badger team that has dominated most of its competition this season and is 6-0 in Camp Randall Stadium. Because Penn State will not play a postseason game or get the benefit of bowl practices, it's an important game for both the 2013 and 2014 Penn State squads, said its coach.
"Number one, we're focused on Wisconsin because we want to, again, have another chance to send these seniors out on a winning note," O'Brien said. "That is really important. But it's also a chance for our younger players who are coming back next year, younger and veteran players who are coming back next year, to go out there against a very good football team and play well. So it's an important game for that. So we're focused there."
The Nittany Lions should get return specialist and backup safety Von Walker back this week after the freshman run-on missed the Nebraska game with a concussion, O'Brien said, and the Nittany Lions are hopeful running back Bill Belton, who did not play against the Cornhuskers due to a shoulder injury and a case of strep throat, will be available as well, especially considering Zach Zwinak has been dealing with a shoulder injury of his own. Cornerback Adrian Amos has been dealing with a foot sprain but expected to play as well.
O'Brien said Tuesday that "you are what your record says you are" and is disappointed that the season hasn't included a few more wins, but he likes that the Nittany Lions have been able to develop freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, run the ball successfully and show some improvement on defense. He also thinks the team is in good stead in a larger sense.
"I feel really good about where the program's at," O'Brien said. "I think that recruiting has gone well. I think if you look at the '13 class that we brought in here recruiting‑wise, from what I can see right off the bat, I don't think there are any "busts." I think there are role players and guys that will continue to have roles for us. I think there are some really good players that nobody's even seen yet that are redshirting. And then obviously the guys that played this year for us, the Brandon Bells, the Hackenbergs, the Brenemans and those guys. We feel good about the future. We feel good about where we're headed recruiting‑wise.
"Look, I'm not going to get into predictions or anything like that. That's not what I'm saying," he added. "But I think our program with the two‑year sanctions that we've been under and things like that with the limited amount of guys we could offer and guy that's left the program, I think our program stands on pretty solid ground right now."