Penn State Football: Bill O'Brien'S Biggest Challenges in 2013

Colin Tansits@@colin_tansitsContributor IJanuary 20, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions walks off the field after defeating the Navy Midshipmen 34-7 at Beaver Stadium on September 15, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

When Bill O’Brien was hired as Penn State’s new head coach, he undoubtedly knew that there was going to be challenges in getting the Lions back to strength.

Aside from the dark history left by Jerry Sandusky, scarring the university for years to come, the NCAA placed scholarship and postseason sanctions on the football program in Happy Valley.

O’Brien pushed Penn State through it’s darkest time and with the help of several key seniors, the first year head coach guided the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 finish.

Through all of the challenges in 2012, O’Brien and his team persevered.

But it is now 2013, and a new year brings new challenges.

Although O’Brien will face many challenges this year, there are a few big obstacles highlighted below that O’Brien and his team must overcome for the program to continue its rebuilding process.

Keeping the Team to Together

Last year senior Michael Mauti was one of the most vocal leaders at Penn State both on and off the field.

Mauti did everything he could to keep the team together as the program and university was crumbling around them.

Mauti along with Gerald Hodges, Mike Zordich and Matt McGloin were all key senior leaders in 2012, and these players were instrumental in keeping the team together.

In 2013, O’Brien needs to keep his team as close knit as the 2012 group was.

Although the adversity in 2013 will most likely be less than that of 2012, the NCAA sanctions are still potentially crippling penalties and O’Brien needs his players to stay together to continue to rebuild.

Replacing Top Seniors

It was no secret that in 2012 O’Brien relied heavily upon his senior class to lead both on and off the field.

But those seniors will be long gone by the start of the season and they are taking with them their leadership and production.

Replacing big holes at linebacker, quarterback and defensive tackle will be one of the tougher challenges for O’Brien heading into the 2013 season.

Mauti, Hodges, McGloin and Jordan Hill all made massive impacts on each of Penn State’s 12 games last season.

Replacing the leadership of those seniors though will be even tougher than filling their position holes.

The 2012 senior class at Penn State had some of the program’s best leaders.

Combining the loss of production and leadership creates a tough challenge for O’Brien.

Continuing to Bring in Top Recruits

As the recruiting class of 2012 gets ready to sign their letters of intent, Penn State will be bringing in one of their most talented classes in the past few years.

Top players such as Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman highlight a class that O’Brien has put together as he works around the NCAA sanctions.

Luckily for O’Brien and Penn State, the sanctions on scholarships will begin to be enforced on the 2012 class.

This allows early commitments such as Tyler Ferguson and Breneman who have enrolled at Penn State for this spring semester to be considered as recruits from the previous class.

Nonetheless as O’Brien continues to maneuver around the sanctions, bringing in top recruits may get tougher and tougher.

This is undoubtedly O’Brien’s biggest challenge and it will be as long as the sanctions continue to tie his hands.

Amongst all of the challenges though, O’Brien continues to be a model of consistency at Penn State.

Even with rumors about a possible move to the NFL for the coach, O’Brien remained determined to hold his word that he would rebuild the program.

Although these challenges highlighted above may prove to be the biggest obstacles for O’Brien this season, he should continue to overcome them.

When Penn State selected O’Brien as their new head coach, they picked a man who knows how get past these types of challenges.