UNIVERSITY PARK (AP) - Small steps impress Indiana State coach Trent Miles, like a roster that includes a tight end, a fullback and more than five defensive linemen.
Its roster once in shambles amid talk of disbanding the program, Sycamores football is now on the rise - though the school's athletic program could still use a cash infusion.
So Miles is refreshingly blunt about his FCS team's trip Saturday to Happy Valley to face Big Ten power Penn State in the season opener.
"It's the first time since I've been here that the travel squad has almost been the same as last year, with the exception of just a couple guys," Miles said. "We're going there with some experience.
"But again, it's Penn State. We're getting on that plane, we're going in there and we're going to fight all we can, play the best we can, collect our money and come back home."
That's an estimated $450,000-$475,000, according to Miles. A nice paycheck in exchange for a likely blowout at the hands of the Nittany Lions. The money can be used to help Indiana State's entire athletic budget, Miles said.
The Sycamores snapped a staggering streak of 60 losses in 62 games with a 6-5 record in 2010, the program's first winning mark since 1996. A trip east to face Penn State also gives Indiana State a larger audience to tell its feel-good football story.
"I-AA teams are trying to play Division I teams, big-time teams like Penn State, for money and exposure," Miles said. "(Those are) the main things."
Counterpart Joe Paterno has plenty of both.
He's still feeling the effects of an accidental practice collision with a player more than three weeks ago that injured his right shoulder and pelvis, though it may not matter much Saturday whether the Hall of Fame coach is calling the shots from the sideline or the press box. Paterno said this week there was a "50-50" chance he would be on the sideline.
"I don't think it makes a difference at all," safety Nick Sukay said. "When you're down on the field focusing on the game, you're not looking at where your coaches are at" on the field.
Indiana State has 18 starters back, including quarterback Ronnie Fouch. A transfer from Washington who started eight games for the Huskies after Jake Locker was hurt in 2008, Fouch shouldn't be awe-struck by the 100,000-plus fans at Beaver Stadium.
The Sycamores' stable quarterback situation is a stark contrast to the unsettled quarterback race at Penn State, where Paterno has said both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin will take about the same number of snaps under center.
Saturday may very well be an extended audition for Sept. 10, when second-ranked Alabama visits Happy Valley.
"I've been very pleased with the way they have practiced, with their leadership in the huddle," Paterno said. "Their anticipation of certain things. Their awareness of what's going on, all those little things that you would hope a good quarterback can do."
The Nittany Lions could also use some settling on the offensive line before the Crimson Tide arrive. The current combination will include new starters at center and right guard.
Penn State also has a host of players injured from last year to get back into the lineup, and an improved pass rush at defensive end is also on the wish list.
Miles could only dream about having such problems at Indiana State.
When he took the job four seasons ago, Miles had just six offensive linemen, including walk-ons, five defensive linemen and no tight ends or fullbacks.
"We had 38 players to end our first spring. We had to take TV timeouts every six, seven, eight plays to rest the linemen to be able to have a scrimmage," Miles said. "It was very difficult."
Now, the Sycamores have a new locker room and updated video facilities thanks to a renewed commitment by school administrators. Also, travel restrictions on recruiting have been lifted.
Fresh off a successful 2010, Miles hopes his Sycamores trot on to the Beaver Stadium field Saturday with an air of confidence in hopes of pulling an unlikely David and Goliath-style upset.
"My expectations are to go in there and don't give up big plays, don't turn the ball over on offense, play sound on special teams and see what happens in the fourth quarter," he said. "That's how I go into every game.
"We don't treat this any different."