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Much to be thankful for

There won't be a bowl game, the top linebacker won't be in the lineup this week and the offseason will be another free-for-all, but Penn State football fans, even after one of the most tumultuous stretches in the program's history, still have plenty of things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. Here are seven of them.

With the help of a motivated group of seniors, Bill O'Brien led Penn State beyond most expectations this fall.

7. The SupaSix

Though many fans (and coaches, and opposing coaches) might be on pins and needles during the next few months as this collection of talented sophomores and redshirt freshmen decide if they do indeed want to return next season, they're here now. Allen Robinson, Kyle Carter, Adrian Amos, Deion Barnes, Donovan Smith and Bill Belton were as good as advertised this season and will be the building blocks for the 2013 squad.

6. Young talent waiting in the wings

From those we've seen flashes of, like Anthony Zettel and Trevor Williams, to those who have impressed behind the scenes, like Eugene Lewis and Austin Johnson, there are a number of Nittany Lions poised to take on bigger roles next season. They could make the losses of some productive seniors easier to take.

5. AB and Hack

Penn State's future lies in its recruits, and the Class of 2013 has two vital linchpins in Adam Breneman and Christian Hackenberg. Their decisions to stay with Penn State through the sanctions were huge, and they've both done a lot of work on other prospective recruits, some of which could pay off in the coming weeks.

4. A weak Big Ten

The next few seasons aren't going to be easy for Penn State but the Nittany Lions should be able, as they did for much of 2012, to take advantage of a collection of Big Ten teams that has seen stronger days. Coaching transitions and a gradual loss of talent have taken their toll, and the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, though beneficial to the conference financially, won't add as much from a competitive standpoint. Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will remain a major problem but there aren't many other teams that should be during the next few seasons.

3. A talented coaching staff

A lot of Nittany Lions, at several positions, took big individual steps forward this season, and credit must be given to the staff Bill O'Brien assembled last winter. Penn State has a collection of savvy veterans (Larry Johnson, Ron Vanderlinden, Mac McWhorter) and energetic young coaches (John Butler, Charles London), who meshed nicely with each other, and the work of Craig Fitzgerald and his strength staff cannot be discounted.

2. The senior class

Stephon Morris wasn't really exaggerating when he said this week that Penn State might not have been able to field a team had the senior class fallen apart after the sanctions were issued this summer. The seniors kept themselves together and set the tone during every workout and every game. Matt McGloin, Matt Stankiewitch and Mike Zordich led the offense while Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill and Morris guided the defense. Beaver Stadium might not be filled on Saturday but it will be noisy as fans pay tribute to what will be one of the most remembered groups in Penn State history.

1. Bill O'Brien

At this time a year ago, only a handful of Penn State fans -- and players -- would have recognized the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator had they bumped into him on the street. Today, they are hard-pressed to come up with a person who could have done a better job of guiding the Nittany Lions through a season like no other. O'Brien quickly got his players to buy in and, as he spent the summer going from town to town meeting Penn State fans, was crafting a game plan that would revamp Penn State's offense and keep the defense one of the best in the conference. He took a team that many felt had 5- or 6-win talent at best and now has them in position to finish 8-4. For all he showed this season, Penn State fans are excited about what O'Brien could show them in the future. And they should be.

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