Every college football season has moments that define what a team is about. That was true for the 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions. The circumstances surrounding the team since last November have been well publicized.
No team has ever had to deal with the firing of a legend, a terrible scandal, harsh NCAA sanctions and key starters transferring all in the same year.
Those are the obstacles that faced the Nittany Lions before the start of the season. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, the Lions fought hard and proved that anything can be overcome with hard work and determination.
In finishing 8-4, the Nittany Lions surprised many in the college football world, especially after starting the year 0-2. This season was a total team effort that saw many young and inexperienced players fill in and play huge roles throughout the year.
The slides to come highlight five moments that showcase the will and heart of the 2012 Nittany Lions.
Following two straight losses to start the year, the Lions played a great game in Week 3 against Navy and got an important win. The Nittany Lions were victorious 34-7.
The game was a statement win for the Lions that saw quarterback Matt McGloin and the rest of the offense hit its stride.
McGloin, who struggled in 2011, proved that 2012 would be different. Against the Midshipmen, the senior signal-caller threw for 231 yards and an impressive four touchdowns.
Sophomore wide receiver Allen Robinson also had his coming-out party in Week 3. He showed off his playmaking ability and torched the Midshipmen defense for 136 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense stepped up as well and helped the Lions to their first victory of the year by registering four sacks, two fumbles and an interception.
With all the adversity before the season and an 0-2 start, the season really could have been disastrous. However, the dominant performance in Week 3 righted the ship and started the Nittany Lions on a five-game winning streak.
Starting the year, sophomore Zach Zwinak was not expected to see a lot of time at running back. Bill Belton was slated to start, while Zwinak was actually listed as a backup fullback.
Due to injuries in front of him, Zwinak got his shot early in the season and made the most of it. The Week 4 game against Temple was the first game in which he was really called upon. He saw 18 carries for 94 yards against the Owls. .
In Week 5 at Illinois, Zwinak took full advantage of his opportunity and had a breakout performance. He carried the ball 19 times against the Illini for 100 yards and two scores.
Zwinak's game set the tone for the rest of the year and vaulted him up to the role of lead runner for the Nittany Lions. The sophomore finished the year with 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.
His Week 5 performance demonstrated the mantra "next man up." That was a theme for the 2012 Lions due to injuries and transfers of key players.
Sam Ficken's final game of 2012 epitomized the spirit of the entire Penn State team. No team showed as much determination as this one. Like the team, Ficken fought through adversity and came out victorious in the end.
Ficken had as bad of a start to the year as possible. The much maligned kicker missed four field goals in a Week 2 one-point loss at Virginia. He also had an extra point blocked in that game. He followed up Week 2 by going just one out of three in the next three games.
Fans were calling for the kicker to be replaced. Open kicking tryouts were even held on campus during the team's bye week. Instead of calling it quits, the sophomore worked hard and kept at it. His three field goals in the finale against Wisconsin were fitting of he and the team's attitude.
In spite of everything, Ficken had the last laugh. He found his groove and finished the year hitting on 12 out of 13 field goals.
When the 37-yard, game-winning field goal against the Badgers sailed off the foot of the kicker and went through the uprights, it was the perfect end to a tough yet memorable season.
The Week 6 game against Northwestern showed the fight and the never-quit attitude of the 2012 team. The Lions started the fourth quarter down 28-17, but came out on top 28-39.
In what was one of Penn Sate's most exciting games of the year, the team showed that a double-digit deficit was not going to stop them. The Lions scored 22 unanswered, fourth-quarter points en route to the victory.
Things were looking bleak for the Lions at the end of the third quarter. Northwestern punt returner Venric Mark took a punt 75 yards for a touchdown with just 50 seconds to go in the period.
Some teams may have given up, but not this team. Instead of being defeated, the Lions fed off the electric Beaver Stadium crowd and scored three touchdowns in a matter of about eight minutes.
This game showed that Penn State had what it takes to fight and come out on top no matter what the situation.
In the season's final game against Wisconsin, the Penn State Nittany Lions showed that this season was all about togetherness and loyalty. The team decided to honor their injured teammate, senior Michael Mauti, with an act that encompassed the 2012 motto of "One Team."
Every player wore 42 on the side of their helmet. Fellow senior linebacker Gerald Hodges even wore the 42 jersey in a moving tribute to the star of the Penn State defense.
There's no denying that Mauti was the emotional leader for Penn State in 2012. He was the face of the players who chose to stay after the sanctions and voiced his disapproval of other schools' recruitment of Penn State players.
On the field, Mauti had a great season. Although he missed the final two games (he left in the first quarter of the next-to-last game), he still finished as the second leading tackler on the team.
Mauti's heart, pride and determination embody everything that is Penn State. The tribute to him on senior day was well-deserved.