Praise replacing scorn as Penn State builds its resume

The flip side "We definitely appreciate the respect ... but, again, it's just halftime." -- Bill O'Brien

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The world, specifically the media world and the Internet world, is a crazy place. Penn State knows as much about the 24-hour news cycle as any institution. It can snap and crush one day and then rework itself into another vise grip the next day and exert similar pressure.

Now the football team is experiencing the converse, the positive effects of a constantly changing public discourse. Many of the doubts and, in extreme cases, much of the animosity cast toward Penn State football just a couple of months ago has been forgotten lately, replaced by national respect and award nominations

"We definitely appreciate the respect people have shown our program, but, again, it's just halftime," coach Bill O'Brien said. "We've only played six games, only halfway through the season. In reality, we haven't done anything yet."

O'Brien has often said winning cures a lot. He said it the first time Penn State won a game, last month against Navy. The implication was clear: Internally this victory would help. He intimated that his players would have more to play for.

Apparently four consecutive victories, including one against a top-25 team in Northwestern, helps externally. Last Thursday, Penn State got Tim Tebow-like attention, landing on ESPN more than anyone could imagine with O'Brien appearing on the "Mike and Mike in the Morning" radio show and on TV's "SportsCenter."

The football team had experienced another barrage of publicity in late July. In a two-day period, O'Brien appeared on SportsCenter, Mike and Mike and an ESPN radio show with Bonnie Bernstein, taking questions about the NCAA sanctions. Sports Illustrated featured a cover with the words "We Were Penn State" that week.

This time was different. The July coverage focused on the problems and, in the case of Sports Illustrated, predicted doom.

Rather than dwell on the negatives and the Penn State turmoil, the team has been portrayed in a more positive light since the victory against Northwestern. Mike Greenberg, of Mike and Mike in the Morning, announced O'Brien by saying that you could make an argument he deserved to be coach of the year.

The sentiment does not belong only to Greenberg. Liberty Mutual set up a coach of the year contest, open to fan vote, and O'Brien leads the competition. He has twice as many votes as the nearest competitor.

Last week, linebackers Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were named midseason All-Americans by Phil Steele's College Football. Monday, Kyle Carter was named as a finalist for the Mackey Award, which goes to the nation's best tight end. Allen Robinson is on the Biletnikoff Award watch list for top receiver. Mauti's absence from the Lombardi Award nomination list for top linebacker or defensive lineman was called a snub on many corners of the Internet.

Plenty of attention has focused on Penn State all season, just not always of this variety. Defensive back Adrian Amos said he and his teammates haven't changed, even as the conversations surrounding them have.

"The attitudes in the locker room are still the same as they always were," he said.

psusports

Mark Dent: mdent@post-gazette.com, Twitter @mdent05.


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