The Penn State football team started the 2012 season facing what appeared to be a long, arduous rehabilitation project. They were stripped of 20 scholarships a year over the next four seasons and were banned from bowl games during that same period.
The program also lost several key players, as student athletes were allowed to transfer schools without penalty.
In light of the punishments, a bowl ban seemed redundant. What team could possibly rebuild under these circumstances?
The school now sits at the one-year mark following the arrest of Jerry Sandusky, and the success they've had weathering this storm is quite impressive.
There were very few expectations of Penn State in 2012 as the program appeared to be in shambles. But the players have opted to focus on what they have, not what they've lost, and have fought their way to an impressive 6-3 record, including 4-1 in Big 10 play.
After facing Nebraska, the Nittany Lions finish the season at home against Indiana and Wisconsin.
The challenge of convincing players to represent a school with a damaged reputation and no potential perquisite of a bowl game is daunting. It becomes about selling a legacy—about being part of a special group of young men that fought against the odds to rehabilitate the image of a once-proud institution.
There is still a lot of pride left in the University.
One year later, we came up with 100 reasons why We STILL Are..Penn State. onward.st/UqHFq0— Onward State (@OnwardState) November 5, 2012
Penn State visits Nebraska on Saturday in a game, like most this season, they aren't expected to win. The Cornhuskers are 7-2 and locked in a battle with Michigan to win the Legends division.
Nebraska is a seven-point favorite and feature a stellar running back duo and solid play from the quarterback position. Rex Burkhead may be missing from the lineup, though.
A win over one of the best teams the Big 10 has to offer would be a huge statement.
It would set even loftier expectations for coming seasons.
But the strides the program has taken this season won't be measured by a single game. Win or lose on Saturday, the rebuild is far ahead of expectations.
The current season will greatly assist the coaching staff in recruiting.
Incoming freshmen, assuming they use a redshirt season, will have the opportunity to play in two bowl games. Head coach Bill O'Brien has a story to share, one the administration can support.
This team can play with pride and overcome the losses so they are ready for a major bowl bid after the 2016 season.
Darin Pike is a writer for Bleacher Report's Breaking News Team and a Featured Columnist covering the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks.
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