UNIVERSITY PARK - Chants of "We are ... Penn State" will continue to reverberate throughout Beaver Stadium as the Nittany Lions take on No. 24-ranked Northwestern at noon today.
The Old Main bell chimes will still be heard across campus, and alumni will gather in State College, walking along the same sidewalks they once strode as undergrads.
But some of the changes surrounding Penn State - names on the backs of football jerseys, a new football coach - are undeniable.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien sings the alma mater with his players before the game against Temple on Sept. 22.
Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien points to the student section before the Temple game on Sept. 22.
"We think that homecoming takes on added importance this year," said Roger Williams, executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association. "We're hoping that we have great attendance."
This year's celebrations are unique because of the ongoing crisis surrounding Penn State, Williams said. Despite scrutiny on a national level, students and alumni are determined to show Penn State will remain a strong institution.
Honoring Penn State spirit and tradition is paramount to the homecoming 2012 theme: "The glory echoes on."
"I think a good homecoming can do a lot to show the nation and each other how great our university is," Williams said.
Williams said he envisions more than 110,000 students and alumni cheering on the Nittany Lions as they take on Northwestern.
Student leaders expressed similar confidence in the numbers of alumni and their families expected to return to Happy Valley in celebration of their alma mater.
"I think what make this year more special than previous years is that there's been a lot of anticipation for this week's events," homecoming spokesman Bobby Walter said. "I know that alumni are a lot more eager to get involved and come back."
For Walter, who grew up in State College and watched the homecoming parade every year, being a part of the experience is surreal, he said.
The homecoming committee partnered with the Alumni Association in an increased effort to reach out to alumni and share that same sense of excitement, Walter said.
Alumni and visitors were welcomed at every homecoming event on campus throughout the week, Walter said. Certain events, including Friday's student and alumni ice cream social, were geared specifically toward interactions among current and former students.
A full list of events is available at homecoming
But the homecoming parade on Friday and today's football game are the big draws for the weekend crowd.
"It's iconic; it's what people come back into town for," Walter said. "This year more so than ever, we've been hearing a lot more excitement, which is great."
And alumni aren't simply passive observers of student-run events.
A group of about 350 Blue Band alumni will pick up their instruments once again, continuing the tradition of marching alongside current Blue Band members during the football game, Director O. Richard Bundy said.
"They rehearse for about an hour to an hour and a half at most" before taking to the field, Bundy said.
While the performances are not always perfect, they are nonetheless memorable for the students and alumni involved, he said.
One of the new gameday performances begins after the game clock runs out. The football team, led by the Blue Band, remains on the field and sings the alma mater with those still in the stands.
"I told [head football coach Bill O'Brien] I liked the idea and we would be happy to do what we could to accommodate and make it happen," Bundy said.
"It's something a lot of schools do. I think it's particularly meaningful to a lot of people this year with all that's happened."
Homecoming corporate relations officer Chris Murray said school spirit and traditions are the focus of the week.
"Penn State stands on our traditions," Murray said. "New or old, every Penn Stater has such pride within them. That hasn't changed, and I don't think it ever will."
Pride among students continues to drive those camped out at Nittanyville, the group's homecoming chairman Scott Lattimer said.
The campers, who sleep in tents outside Gate A of Beaver Stadium ahead of home football games, have rallied behind the football team like never before, he said.
"This year for each campout, we've actually seen an increase for the number of campers at each game," Lattimer said.
A student-organized whiteout, the team battling a ranked opponent and the "One Team" mentality of singing the alma mater with the team post-game will lead to a great turnout, he said.
"I love the changes," Lattimer said. "It's a new era, so it's nice to have a little change."
For Williams, homecoming has enormous potential.
Looking back, two homecoming events in particular - the second annual Harvest Home festival in 1870, and the 1920's homecoming football game against Dartmouth - both left a significant impact on the university.
Harvest Home saw thousands of alumni return to celebrate a school only in its early years. And victory over Dartmouth in 1920 in front of a crowd of 12,000 paved the way for the football team's undefeated season.
"I hope for a great homecoming," Williams said. "I think we need it, obviously more than ever, given the circumstances we find ourselves in as a university.
"I think a good, strong homecoming can help lift everyone's spirits."
Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.