Penn State football wasn't supposed to do much of anything this season.
After the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the ensuing NCAA sanctions, numerous players transferred from the university before the 2012-2013 campaign began.
On top of that, the Nittany Lions had a new head coach in Bill O'Brien...who had no head coaching experience.
It was all set up to be a disaster this season for Penn State.
Except it wasn't a disaster at all. O'Brien was a leader for a program that clearly needed direction, coaching the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record (6-2 Big Ten), accentuated by the 24-21 overtime victory against Wisconsin to end the regular season.
The basis of Penn State's success was its defense and the improved play of senior quarterback Matt McGloin. The Nittany Lions held opponents to 19.1 points per game, good for 20th in the nation. They allowed just 3.57 yards per carry, also ranked 20th in the country (via CFBStats.com).
En route, O'Brien was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Penn State is still under a bowl ban for another three seasons, but making progress during that time will be essential in competing for a bowl game when the ban is lifted.
All of a sudden, there is a lot to be hopeful for at University Park. The Nittany Lions have made legitimate progress, led by a coach who clearly knows what he's doing.
It was supposed to take years for the football program to recover from the scandal. Instead, Penn State already looks like a competitive team that will make life difficult for its Big Ten opponents moving forward.