UNIVERSITY PARK - Here we are, a year removed from one of the worst performances of the Joe Paterno Era.
Last year's Homecoming date with Illinois produced a 33-13 splattering to the Illini in which the Nittany Lions were dominated and humiliated.
For starters, Illinois went for a fourth-and-1 at its own 29 on the game's first possession - and made it. (Ron Zook, interestingly, faced a fourth-and-2 from the PSU 48 later in the possession and punted into the end zone.)
It didn't matter. The Lions mustered a mere seven first downs all day - two on the ground - and left Paterno in a blunt mood afterward.
"We stunk," were among the first words out of his mouth.
The loss left Penn State at 3-3 and sent the season south.
Paterno has made a career out of beating the teams he's supposed to, and if there was one signature loss that turned an 8-4 or 7-5 rebuild into 7-6 rubble, it was Illinois.
The Lions can still taste it.
"It was Homecoming, and when you lose by that margin ... that's not what this program's about," senior offensive tackle Chima Okoli said. "They were fired up from the beginning, and we lacked a little bit."
Defensive end Jack Crawford was injured that day and noticed from the sidelines that a fire was missing.
"Just watching it last year, it left a bad taste," he said. "I could tell how much that game hurt. It's hard to watch that tape and see what they did to us."
Have the Lions' fully recovered? They'll find out more today.
Penn State was flat last year in part because it was trying to be led by true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. That was one game in which Matt McGloin was not summoned off the bench. Instead, it was Kevin Newsome, who made no difference.
McGloin, who has played in every game since, eventually took over the job and injected some vertical direction into the passing game and positive juice into the entire football team, just as he's done this year in triggering a 7-1 start.
McGloin made his first start of the season last week at Northwestern, and the offense responded with a season-high 34 points. Nonetheless, the Paternos - Joe and quarterbacks coach Jay - have both said playing Bolden remains an option.
They presumably mean in games and not just in practice, but don't underestimate their ability to gum up a quarterback situation that finally seems to have resolved itself - at least to everyone not named Paterno.
Asked if he favors playing one quarterback, Okoli skillfully deflected the issue, saying, "I'm in favor of winning. Whatever it's going to take to get that done, I support. Players play and coaches coach, and you can't get caught up in the politics of football."
No matter which quarterback plays, the Lions have found a running game. Silas Redd has surged to the rushing lead in the Big Ten behind an improving offensive line.
"The running game's key to winning any game," Okoli said. "That's how you control the clock and keep their offense off the field. They were very good defensively, and we struggled to run the ball. That's going to be a key this year."
The Lions are also much better defensively and have an overall stronger belief in themselves.
"We're committed to, finally, being the group I think we can be and utilize our full potential," Okoli said.
With next Saturday off, this is a chance for Penn State to storm into its bye week at 8-1 and build a momentum bandwagon for November, a month that - with Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin waiting - offers the opportunity for this season to still be special.
"If we can get this win," Crawford said, "we'll be in a good position for the remainder of the season."
Penn State's success this year will be defined by how it does in its last three games - unless, that is, it fails to return Illinois' favor of 2010.