Penn State Football: Reflecting on a Tumultuous Year in Happy Valley

Barry LeonardAnalyst IIIJanuary 1, 2013

STATE COLLEGE, PA - JANUARY 22: A student cannot hold back his emotions as he and others in the community pay their respects at the statue of Joe Paterno, the former Penn State football coach, after hearing of Paterno's death, outside of Beaver Stadium on January 22, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania. Paterno, who was 85, died due to complications from lung cancer. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

There's little doubt that 2012 will go down as the most challenging yet memorable year in Penn State football history. The conviction of a former assistant coach for crimes against children in campus buildings, the passing of a legendary figure and damaging NCAA sanctions all played a part in making the year nothing short of tumultuous.

While the university and football program spent much of the year clouded in controversy, there were also signs that showed that it's not all bad at Penn State and there is hope for a bright future.

Penn State fans knew early on that 2012 would be a year that would change the university forever.  

In early January, the hiring of new head coach Bill O'Brien brought ridicule from former players and alumni. Those against the choice felt that the process was flawed and too hurried.

A few weeks after former coach Joe Paterno was officially replaced, the former figurehead of the university passed away due to complications from lung cancer. A large memorial service was held on a cold and dreary day, which was fitting for the mood in the little town of State College, Pa at that time.

Things quieted down after Paterno's passing. There wasn't much to talk about other than how O'Brien and the team would fare in the upcoming season.

Unfortunately, Penn State was in the spotlight once again in July when the Freeh Report, an investigation into the university's handling of the Jerry Sandusky situation, was released to the public. According to the report, Penn State officials, including Paterno, knew about and hid the actions of Sandusky.

The release of that report set off a chain reaction of events within a matter of days.

The university acted quickly, removing the iconic statue of Paterno from its location outside of Beaver Stadium a week after the report came out.

Though some people such as columnist Gill Spencer argued that the report was based on assumptions and opinions, the NCAA used it as the basis of punishment handed down to the school. Instead of conducting its own investigation, as per protocol, the governing body of college athletics promptly came to a decision just 11 days after the report was released.

The football program received never before seen punishment from the NCAA. The damaging sanctions included a four-year bowl ban, a major reduction in scholarships and a 60 million dollar fine.

Perhaps the most direct hit to the 2012 football team came when it was decided that current players could transfer schools immediately without penalty. Just weeks before the start of the new season, O'Brien watched his starting running back, wide receiver and kicker jump ship and head elsewhere.

After all that happened in such a short time period, a community and a fanbase was left shocked, confused, angry and unsure of the future.

When the 2012 football season actually started no one really knew what to expect from the team. After starting 0-2, some thought the season was over. Then in something fit for a movie, the team rallied together, reeled off five straight victories and finished the year with a successful record of 8-4.

Through all of the change and adversity, the Nittany Lions stuck together and played their hearts out. The 2012 team will be forever remembered by Penn State fans and was added to the Wall of Champions on the facade inside of Beaver Stadium.

After finishing the year with a winning record, fans can be hopeful that O'Brien is certainly the right guy for the job and the football program will be just fine.

2012 was a year full of controversy and challenges, and yet the Penn State Nittany Lions fought through all of the negativity and gave the Penn State community a reason to believe that the future in Happy Valley will be bright and successful.