Penn State has no idea what it's in for Saturday against Minnesota, which just fired its head coach, is a program in desperation mode and has an interim guy in charge who cracked a sly grin when he admitted this week, "18 years in Nevada, I like to gamble."
The Golden Gophers can go one of two ways this week: They can lay down and quit after the ouster of coach Tim Brewster, or they can man up, show some pride, take all sorts of chances and throw caution to the wind under interim coach Jeff Horton.
The Nittany Lions need to be prepared for the latter.
Horton, who previously served as head coach at Nevada and UNLV, sounded this week as if he's prepared to do anything and everything to give his team a chance to win.
When asked if he plans to play with a nothing-to-lose attitude, the charismatic Horton replied, "If it doesn't work, are they gonna fire you twice?"
Penn State's players spent the past week and a half trying to right their own ship after a disappointing 3-3 start. But even if they do a good job of that, it still doesn't mean they'll be fully prepared for potentially a bunch of fired-up Gophers who have huge chips on their shoulders.
Interim Minnesota coach Jeff Horton went 7-4 his only season as head coach at Nevada in 1993, then was 13-44 in five seasons at UNLV from 1994-98. He was fired after going 0-11 with the Rebels in 1998.
"Any time something like that happens, it kind of shocks you and triggers emotions," PSU receiver Brett Brackett said of Minnesota's coaching change.
"We're not exactly sure what to expect playing a team that just lost their coach," Lion guard Stefen Wisniewski said. "It's a wild card. ... Maybe they'll come out fired up and desperate, or maybe they'll come out kind of down."
Minnesota is just 1-6 and 0-3 in the Big Ten, and Brewster spent the past few weeks on borrowed time. The school finally fired him after last week's loss at Purdue.
Horton is in his first year on the Minnesota staff and had been serving as co-offensive coordinator. He spent the past four seasons in the NFL -- as an offensive assistant with the Rams from 2006-08 and as quarterbacks coach with the Lions in 2009.
Horton said he has "no visions of grandeur" about being named the full-time coach at Minnesota.
"I don't know what the odds are -- like if somebody posted them right now -- of me being the head coach here," Horton said. "But if you put $5 down, you could retire if that happened because I'm sure those odds are about 5 million to 1, so you'd make $25 million."
This guy sounds like the ultimate coach with nothing to lose. And that makes him especially dangerous for PSU.
Horton hasn't been in charge of a program since leaving UNLV in 1998, and he must know that if he can somehow pull off a stunning turnaround with the Gophers that it could land him another head coaching position.
"We're going to have fun over these last five games," Horton said. "We're not going to sit around here and be doom and gloom."
Horton has some weapons at his disposal on offense, led by three-year starting quarterback Adam Weber. Teams have been able to throw on Penn State all year, so it won't be a surprise if Horton spreads things out and lets Weber take shots downfield.
Even if that happens, Penn State still may have a good chance to win because of Minnesota's poor defense. The Gophers are last in the Big Ten at stopping the run, allowing a whopping 5.6 yards per carry and 201 yards per game.
The Lions will be playing at Minnesota's new TCF Bank Stadium for the first time, and Horton prodded the Gopher fans to come out in full force and make the place rock Saturday.
Of all the times to catch a 1-6 team, this week could be the worst for Penn State.
"Hopefully because of the direction we're in now, the pressure is off the players some," Horton said. "They can go and play harder, play better. As coaches, we can coach harder, coach better.
"I told both the staff and the players, whatever we've done, whatever we've given up to this point, it hasn't been enough because of what the results are. We've got to find a way, all of us, to give more. And we need to do that starting on Saturday."
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.