The Nittany Lions begin the 2006 campaign on Saturday against those same pesky Zips. Below is a brief glance of the program and its current surroundings since Joe Paterno's team crushed Akron on Labor Day weekend 24 months ago.
The Roster – On offense, Hunt and left tackle Levi Brown are the only two players that will start both games. Defensively, Jay Alford, Tim Shaw and Paul Posluszny, who will all start on Saturday, were starters in 2004.
Coaching Staff – In his first season as offensive coordinator, Galen Hall and Tom Bradley were the two top assistant coaches and remain as such. The rest of the staff is also still intact.
National Rankings – Neither of the preseason polls included Penn State two years ago. The Nittany Lions enter this game at No. 19 in both.
Student Enthusiasm - In 2004, the only entity that called itself Paternoville was the secret group of deep-pocketed alumni in the midst of an attempted coup to oust the fictional town's namesake. Two years later, students are camping out in front of Beaver Stadium days before the game in order to obtain front-row seats while arguing over who gets to be mayor and whose turn it is to phone in the next order of Papa John's pizza.
Attendance - The official attendance of the 2004 game was 98,866. In reality, if there were 90K people inside the stadium that day, there is a great bridge for sale near the beach house that Steve Spurrier and Bobby Bowden own together. A crowd of at least 105,000 is expected on Saturday, with an eventual sellout likely.
Weather – The skies over Centre Country were sunny on September 4, 2004, with a temperature of 85 degrees at kickoff. Saturday's forecast calls for just the opposite. Yuck.
Akron – The Zips will walk into Beaver Stadium on Saturday as the defending Mid-American Conference champions after an incredibly dramatic 31-30 victory over Northern Illinois in the MAC title game last December. Domenik Hixon's 36-yard touchdown reception with 10 seconds remaining in regulation vaulted J.D. Brookhart's team into the first bowl game in school history. When Akron opened its 2004 campaign on the corner of Park Avenue and Porter Road, it was Brookhart's first game as head coach of the Zips, who had finished 7-5 the previous season. Charlie Frye – who made State fans nervous two years ago – is gone, but Luke Getsy might have a better arm.
Paterno – The living legend entered the 2004 opener on the heels of a 3-9 season that was much worse than the record indicated. But Paterno re-invented himself in 2005 with a collection of players that could have produced his sixth undefeated season if only…calm down, calm down. Easy, easy. Think 10/14/06.
Predictions – At the 2004 Big Ten preseason media luncheon, Michigan was picked to win the conference. Ohio State was tabbed the second-best team followed by Iowa. In early August, the expected finish at the top of the league for this season included the same three squads, except OSU and Michigan reversed spots.
Big Ten Coaches – Over the past two years, there have been four coaching changes in the conference. Paterno, Lloyd Carr, Jim Tressel, Kirk Ferentz, John L. Smith, Glen Mason and Joe Tiller are still with their respective teams. However, Wisconsin's Barry Alvarez retired and handed the reigns to Bret Bielema, Terry Hoeppner replaced Gerry DiNardo at Indiana and Illinois ousted Ron Turner in favor of Ron Zook. Tragically, Northwestern's Randy Walker passed away in late June. Pat Fitzgerald is now the head coach.
State College/University Park – Ordering Peachy Paterno ice cream at the Penn State Creamery will be a different experience in more ways than one. Not only was "peachy" the opposite of the legend's mood, but the store was situated at the old location in Borland Laboratory. Those venturing to the game can check out the new digs. The brand new Berkey Creamery is about a block east from the old site down Curtin Road toward the stadium in the new Food Science Building. Also since Akron's last visit, the folks at Princeton Review have deemed the 2006-07 version of Penn State as the No. 2 "party school" in the country after PSU had been out of the top 10 for the past few years.
Final Score – Although a repeat of the 48-10 shellacking in 2004 might be a stretch with so many new faces, those that took the Lions and the points will be happy at sundown on Saturday night.