The Penn State Nittany Lions have stared adversity in the face and found more success than expected in the first half of 2012. The 4-2 Lions are riding a four-game win streak and are 2-0 in the Big Ten with wins over Illinois and Northwestern.
But the second half of the season brings several tough tests in the Big Ten.
With six games remaining, Penn State has a chance to do something special. With the offense rolling and the defense playing tough, the sky is the limit.
Here are five bold predictions.
There's no question that Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin has taken a liking to head coach Bill O'Brien's new passing offense. The senior is in the middle of the best season of his college career.
McGloin is fourth in the Big Ten with a QB rating of 134.6, leads the conference with 1,499 passing yards and is tied for the lead with 12 touchdown passes. And he shows no signs of slowing down, throwing for 282 yards and two touchdowns in his last game, a 39-28 win over Northwestern. He also ran for what proved to be the game-winning score in that game.
If McGloin continues his inspired play, he will find himself atop all of the Big Ten quarterbacks by the end of the season.
Sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson is enjoying a breakout season, catching 41 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Big Ten.
Robinson quickly became McGloin's favorite target early in the season. In his last game, against Northwestern in Week 6, he caught nine passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns.
As long as Bill O'Brien is the coach, the Nittany Lions will throw the ball all over the field, and Robinson will be one of the beneficiaries of that approach.
Look for him to catch at least eight more touchdown passes en route to a run at the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top receiver.
As expected, attendance has been down at Beaver Stadium. The 2012 average of 96,000 is 10,000 less than the stadium's capacity and is not what Penn State has grown accustomed to over the years.
Why the downturn? It could be the NCAA sanctions. It could be that many expected the team to not be very good. It could be that the Jerry Sandusky situation angered many people who have decided to not show up. More likely, it's a combination of all those things.
The reality of how hard everything has hit Penn State became clear the Week 6 game against Northwestern. Not only was it homecoming, but it was a game against a ranked opponent. And the crowd that day was just 95,769.
That will change on October 27th. The Nittany Lions host hated rival Ohio State that day. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 8 in the country and will likely still be in the Top 10 come game time. If the Lions can win at Iowa on October 20th, they will enter the OSU game on a five-game winning streak.
Ohio State always draws a big crowd. But throw in that it's a night game as well as the annual Penn State "Whiteout" game, and Beaver Stadium will be bursting at its seams.
Senior linebacker Michael Mauti is the heart and soul of the Penn State defense and is in the middle of a fantastic season. Mauti has 57 tackles, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions.
Mauti can be found making plays all over the field. Even when his statistics don't stand out, he is still an important player on defense.
In Week 6 against Northwestern, Mauti had just six solo tackles, but played a big role on several key third-down stops.
Look for Mauti to continue to lead the Lions and expand on his great season. Mauti has already had a stellar career at Penn State. 2012 will just top things off.
Mauti will continue to play hard and garner more national attention as the season wears on. He is on the watch list for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.
He is clearly on a mission to show everyone how proud he is to wear the Blue and White. At the end of the season, Mauti's efforts will earn him the Butkus Award.
Although the Nittany Lions are ineligible for postseason play, the NCAA did rule that they can be crowned Leaders Division regular-season champions.
Everything is set up nicely for the Lions to win it. Games against Iowa, Purdue and Indiana should be won by Penn State.
That leaves three tough matchups: Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
Leaders division foes Ohio State and Wisconsin are both home games.
At 2-0, Penn State is tied for first with Ohio State. Those teams play October 27th at Penn State. The PSU defense will key on Ohio State QB Braxton Miller and shut down his rushing ability.
Motivated by the Beaver Stadium crowd, Penn State will be more pumped up than Ohio State for that showdown, helping the Lions come out on top.
The Badgers travel to Happy Valley on November 24th, another game in which the home-field advantage should be decisive. This Penn State team is not going to let running back Montee Ball run all over them like last year in the 45-7 Wisconsin win. This time, the defense will be ready.
The November 10th road game in Lincoln, Neb., could be the only blemish on the second half of the schedule. Fortunately for Penn State, a loss to Nebraska shouldn't hurt its division-title chances too much since the Huskers are in the Legends Division.
Penn State will finish 9-3, good enough to win the Big Ten Leaders Division crown.