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Big Ten Notebook: O'Brien downplays early success

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, 7:44 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Penn State coach Bill O'Brien celebrates with fans after defeating Northwestern, 39-28, on Oct. 6, 2013, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

An open date on the schedule gives Penn State coach Bill O'Brien a chance to catch his breath and reflect on the first half of the season.

One thing he won't ponder is his early candidacy for the national coach of the year award.

“I've only coached six games in my whole career, so that's the farthest thing from my mind,” O'Brien said Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. “We're 4-2 and we have ‘Murderer's Row' coming up here, starting with Iowa (Oct. 20).”

O'Brien has created a buzz by holding Penn State's program together in the aftermath of severe NCAA sanctions and leading the Nittany Lions to four consecutive wins after an 0-2 start.

“You really appreciate guys that play the game the way that they do,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said when asked about O'Brien's job so far. “It seems like they're playing very, very well and getting better every week. I think that's the sign of a great coach. To have guys believing the way they are, it's probably a pretty fun experience.”

Penn State is scheduled to practice Wednesday, and O'Brien will likely give players the rest of the week off. He said special teams has been an emphasis during the short week of practice, and the first-year coach acknowledged that running back Bill Belton will benefit as much as anyone from the break.

Belton is still recovering from a high-ankle sprain in the opening game of the season. The sophomore had just four carries in Penn State's 39-28 win over Northwestern last Saturday.

“I think that probably Billy's not 100 percent,” O'Brien said. “I do think that this bye week will help him heal up, but also get back into the rhythm of the offense.”

Running wild

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is part of the pack pursuing West Virginia's Geno Smith — the early frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.

Miller, a sophomore, is third in the Big Ten with 127.2 rushing yards per game, and he has led the Buckeyes to a 6-0 start and No. 8 rank in The Associated Press poll. Miller tormented Nebraska last Saturday, rushing for 186 yards and a touchdown in Ohio State's 63-38 win.

“Percy Harvin and Braxton Miller are the two best runners I've ever had,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.

Harvin starred for Meyer at Florida, and he is now a top wide receiver/kick returner for the Minnesota Vikings.

Millers' ascent is a major reason why Ohio State is the Big Ten's lone unbeaten team.

The Buckeyes will have to guard against a letdown Saturday at Indiana after back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Nebraska.

“We're not at the point where we can start overlooking anybody, because we certainly don't have the answers,” Meyer said. “That is a concern, however. These kids are 6-0, and a lot of people are telling them how good they are, and quite honestly, we have a long way to go.”

Clash of titans?

Talks are under way between Wisconsin and Alabama, and the two traditional powerhouses could meet in a season-opening game in 2015.

The Badgers had been considered for the Sept. 1 game that Alabama and Michigan played at Cowboys Stadium.

“They approached us, and we just couldn't make it work,” Bielema said. “We typically get approached with those things a lot in December and January, and because of the way things are evolving now with the strength of schedule and the playoff system, I'm sure that's something everyone's going to take into review.”

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com.

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