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Even with no bowl to rally around, it's still an optimistic offseason for O'Brien, Penn State

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FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2012, file photo, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, center, celebrates with his team after their 24-21 overtime win over Wisconsin in an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa. The reverberations from the Penn State child sex abuse scandal was selected as the sports story of the year by United States editors and news directors in an annual vote conducted by The Associated Press, marking the first time that the same issue was selected in consecutive years since the AP began announcing a sports story of the year in 1990. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File) (The Associated Press)

This is a critical offseason for Penn State, even if the Nittany Lions don't have a bowl from which to build on for the first time in eight seasons.

Coach Bill O'Brien and his staff were busy traveling this month to re-affirm and finalize Penn State's first recruiting class since the NCAA announced sanctions against the school in July for the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

An overachieving 8-4 season appears to be carrying over to the recruiting trail. Blue-chip prospects like Pennsylvania tight end Adam Breneman and Virginia quarterback Christian Hackenberg have stuck to their commitments, and others are on the way.

So, as thoughts turn to a new calendar year, and Penn State fans go through a holiday season in which they aren't packing their bags for a sunny bowl destination, at least there is a wave of optimism that should carry them all the way to September and the kickoff of Year 2 with O'Brien.

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