STATE COLLEGE - At the start of Penn State's season, keeping up with all the players who transferred from the program could be a challenge.

But now that it's over, keeping track of Bill O'Brien's Coach of the Year nominations is just as difficult.

On Thursday, O'Brien will find out if he is the winner of the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, selected by the Football Writers Association of America.

O'Brien had quite the first season at the helm of the once-beleaguered Nittany Lions, leading the team to an 8-4 record (6-2 Big Ten) although nine players transferred before the start of the season after the team was sanctioned. He went from what many saw as an underwhelming hire in January to a hero in November, becoming the only first-year head coach in the history of the program to win eight games, all of which came in the team's last 10 contests.

The former New England Patriots offensive coordinator also controlled a Penn State offense that scored at least 34 points in six of its games this season after doing that only three times in 13 games the year prior. He was vital in molding senior quarterback Matt McGloin into a major offensive weapon (3,266 passing yards, 29 total touchdowns). Last week, McGloin won the Burlsworth Trophy for the best player who started his career as a walk-on.

The FWAA's honor, named after Robinson, the great Grambling coach who won 408 games, was won by former PSU coach Joe Paterno three times - 1978, 1982 and 1986, the latter two after seasons in which he won national championships.

On Saturday, O'Brien was named the AT & T ESPN National Coach of the Year. And last month, he was named the Big Ten's Coach of the Year.

He is also a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year, for which fans play a role by voting, and the Maxwell Football Club's Collegiate Coach of the Year. And, he is on the watch list for the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year.

Although O'Brien had an excellent season, he is up against some stiff competition for the Robinson award: Gary Andersen (Utah State), Dave Doeren (Northern Illinois), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), Urban Meyer (Ohio State), Will Muschamp (Florida), David Shaw (Stanford), Bill Snyder (Kansas State) and Kevin Sumlin (Texas A & M).

Of that group, all but Andersen, Meyer and Sumlin have coached their teams to BCS bowls, and Meyer's Buckeyes would have had a good shot at the Rose Bowl had they not been ineligible.