STATE COLLEGE, Pennsylvania (Ticker) -- There have been few happy faces in Happy Valley the last two seasons. But Penn State hopes to change that this year.
The 24th-ranked Nittany Lions begin Joe Paterno's 37th season as coach on Saturday when they host Central Florida, which is beginning its first season in the Mid-American Conference
Penn State is coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time during Paterno's illustrious career, but is hoping to build on a strong finish last year that has Nittany Lions' fans believing the program can get back on track.
Paterno entered last season needing just two wins pass to Bear Bryant and become the winning coach on the all-time Division I-AA list. But it appeared those wins would never come as Penn State started 0-4 for the first time in the program's storied history.
But the Nittany Lions regrouped to win five of their last seven game, although a loss to Virginia in the final game saddled Paterno with just his third losing season.
The turnaround can be traced to the play of quarterback Zack Mills, who as a redshirt freshman led the Nittany Lions to comeback wins against Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan State.
In the game in which Paterno passed Bryant, Mills set a school record with 418 yards of total offense as the Nittany Lions rallied from an 18-point deficit to edge Ohio State, 29-27.
With 16 starters returning, optimism is running high. And the 75-year-old Paterno has not even hinted at retirement, signing a five-year contract extension in January.
Central Florida, previously an independent, features a pass-oriented attack led by junior quarterback Ryan Schneider, who is on pace to break a number of Daunte Culpepper's school records. Schneider already has thrown for 5,257 yards and 38 touchdowns.
Saturday marks the first meeting between the schools.