LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

The foundation is the same, but the decorations are different.

When the Croke Park Classic was first scheduled, it was billed as two head coaches with Irish roots — UCF's George O'Leary and Penn State's Bill O'Brien — returning to the land of their ancestors. However, that plan proved to be a pipe dream, as O'Brien now roams the sidelines for the Houston Texans.

While Penn State has many players back from last season's team that UCF defeated 34-31, new head coach James Franklin could bring a totally different look than the one the Knights narrowly defeated last season.

"We've looked at Penn State last year for personnel, at schemes and what they tried to do against us last year offensively and defensively," O'Leary said. "Then we looked at all of the different schools, film-wise, that all of these coaches have been at."

And many of those coaches were a part of Franklin's staff at Vanderbilt as well last season.

Save a new starting offensive backfield, UCF returns most of its starting players from last season. That experience could prove valuable, especially with O'Leary entering his 11th season at the helm, when it comes to adjustments.

"The first game, I think is a game of adjustments," O'Leary said. "You want to have experience for one reason: Normally you have to make a lot of adjustments on the sidelines."

Experience is especially important when it is difficult to narrow down the schemes and strategy an opponent will deploy. For both teams, the importance of executing its base offensive and defensive schemes will be crucial.

The common denominator from last season, however, is sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Big 10's Freshman of the Year in 2013.

As a freshman, Hackenberg broke 12 school freshman records, including completions, yards and touchdown passes. The former five-star recruit posted a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio, finishing with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

"As the season progressed after our game, he definitely had a great year in the Big 10," senior linebacker Terrance Plummer said. "He does some things that some other guys can't do."

"I would expect if he keeps improving like he did as a freshman," O'Leary said. "He's probably going to be a quarterback you hear a lot about in college football."

Hackenberg was sharp in last season's contest, completing 21 of 28 passes for 262 yards and a touchdown. Where Penn State attacked UCF last season was on the ground and in the trenches.

The Nittany Lions attempted 35 runs for 193 yards last season, and returns Zach Zwinak who scored three rushing touchdowns against UCF last season.

Although the Croke Park Classic is the first game of the season, the importance of a victory is paramount. Looking back to the 2013, the victory over Penn State put UCF on its course to earn a BCS ranking.

Plus, as the first team out of the AP Top 25 poll, a victory likely would find UCF ranked in the poll.

"I think last year was our first time winning against the Big 10," Plummer said. "It'd be great for us, our team, our program and our university."

And it would set the foundation for an encore of 2013.

THE TALE OF THE TAPE

PENN STATE

Total offense: 43rd nationally

(433.2 yards per game)

Rushing offense: 57th nationally

(174 yards per game)

Passing offense: 37th nationally

(259.2 yards per game)

Scoring offense: 69th nationally

(28.7 points per game)

Total defense: 48th nationally

(381.3 yards allowed per game)

Rushing defense: 36th nationally

(144 yards allowed per game)

Passing defense: 73rd nationally

(237.3 yards allowed per game)

Scoring defense: 59th nationally

(26.2 points per game allowed)

*Penn State and UCF statistics from 2013 season.

UCF

Total offense: 40th nationally

(441.5 yards per game)

Rushing offense: 74th nationally

(159.9 yards per game)

Passing offense: 25th nationally

(281.6 yards per game)

Scoring offense: 30th nationally (34.6 points per game)

Total defense: 29th nationally (362 yards allowed per game)

Rushing defense: 16th nationally (122.5 yards allowed per game)

Passing defense: 76th nationally (239.5 yards allowed per game)

Scoring defense: 17th nationally (21.3 points per game allowed)

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE