Bill O'Brien has earned his first victory over Urban Meyer.

He better enjoy it.

The Penn State head coach beat out his peer from Ohio State on Tuesday night to earn Big Ten Coach of the Year honors from both the coaches and the media.

That was no small feat.

Meyer, in his first year with the Buckeyes, took over a program that was 6-7 last season and facing NCAA sanctions this season. They weren't eligible for a bowl game, a Big Ten title or a national crown, and he still produced a 12-0 record, a No. 4 national ranking and a Big Ten Leaders Division championship.

That's pretty impressive stuff.

But what O'Brien accomplished in 2012 was even more impressive.

ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Bill O’Brien’s agent said his client planned to remain at Penn State.
ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Bill O'Brien's agent said his client planned to remain at Penn State. (File photo)

Like Meyer, O'Brien was a first-year coach for a team trying to overcome NCAA penalties. But that's where the similarities ended. The sanctions the NCAA imposed on the Nittany Lions were draconian compared to the penalties given to Ohio State. Next season, the Buckeyes can compete for a bowl game, a Big Ten title and a national crown.

Penn State, however, won't be able to do any of those things for three more seasons. The Lions also got slammed with a $60 million fine and scholarship reductions that will limit their roster to 65 scholarship players the next four years, instead of the normal 85.

Then there was possibly the worst penalty of all -- PSU players could (and still can) transfer to any school without having to sit out a season. That particular penalty will continue until the opening day of preseason practice in August.

Within weeks after the NCAA sanctions were announced last July, a dozen PSU players bolted for greener pastures, including their top returning running back, wideout and kicker/punter.

Almost immediately, predictions of doom and gloom came from nearly every corner. And after the Lions started the season 0-2, with losses to a Mid-American Conference school and an ACC Coastal Division cellar-dweller, those predictions seemed dead on.

But the intense O'Brien, his veteran staff and an iron-willed senior class would have none of it. They rallied the Lions to five straight wins before losing -- to you guessed it -- Ohio State and Meyer, 35-23.

Despite that loss, the Lions won eight of their last 10 to finish 8-4, including a 6-2 mark in the Big Ten. Given the myriad obstacles thrown in front of them this season, that was simply remarkable. O'Brien deserves much of the credit for that achievement.

The Big Ten coaches and the media -- two groups that don't always see eye to eye -- agreed with that assessment and did the right thing by selecting O'Brien as the league's top coach.

But the good news didn't stop there for Nittany Nation on Tuesday.

ESPN.com reported that O'Brien's agent, Joe Linta, said that his client planned to remain at PSU, despite some reports that he might be interested in other head coaching jobs. Earlier this month, when asked if he planned to stay at PSU, O'Brien was evasive.

"(O'Brien) is staying, and we've had no conversations with anyone else," Linta told ESPN.com. "In fact, he's leaving at 6 in the morning tomorrow to go out on the recruiting trail."

That has to be music the ears of the Blue-and-White faithful.

If O'Brien stays, you can expect most, if not all, of Penn State's key returning players to also stay.

Still, O'Brien and his staff have a huge job ahead. The sanctions are still hanging over his program like an anvil, while Ohio State is pretty much free and clear now. The Buckeyes are expected to be a national title contender next season, and they'll likely remain one as long as Meyer stays in Columbus. He's generally regarded as one of the top two college football coaches and recruiters in the nation, along with Alabama's Nick Saban. His two national titles at Florida would seem to back up that statement.

While O'Brien beat out Meyer for the Big Ten coaching awards, he still has to figure out a way to compete with Meyer on the field and on the recruiting trail.

Meyer beat the Lions on the field this fall, and he drubbed them on the recruiting trail last winter. Ohio State's 2012 recruiting class was ranked No. 4 in the nation by Rivals.com, while Penn State's class was No. 51. What made that harder to swallow was the fact that Meyer lured away several blue-chippers who had verbally committed to PSU before the Sandusky scandal erupted. Meyer also landed Pennsylvania's No. 1 recruit -- Bishop McDevitt defensive end Noah Spence.

Things aren't looking much better for 2013. Rivals.com has OSU's next recruiting class ranked No. 8, while PSU sits at No. 39.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football program. O'Brien knows that better than anyone. Right now, Meyer has more talented players than Penn State, and given the current circumstances, that's unlikely to change anytime soon.

Yes, O'Brien deservedly beat out Meyer during Tuesday night's Big Ten Network awards show, but he's going to have a difficult time beating him on the field anytime soon.

Steve Heiser is sports editor for The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdis patch.com.