From 2005 to 2012, the Penn State Nittany Lions compiled an impressive record of 65-32, good for a .670 winning percentage.
During that time, the team enjoyed four bowl wins, two BCS Bowl bids and eight consecutive winning seasons.
The current squad sits at 6-5 and, with a powerful Wisconsin team waiting in Madison, that streak of winning seasons is in serious jeopardy.
That takes us back to Penn State's last season that didn't involve a winning record.
The end of "The Dark Years."
From 2000-2004, the Nits were a combined 26-33 and enjoyed just one winning season. The team competed in only one bowl during that span—a 13-9 loss to Auburn in the Capital One Bowl.
|The Dark Years|
Penn State's most likely outcome in 2013 is a 6-6 record. Next year's team will be loaded with freshmen, sophomores and question marks. The immediate future is sketchy, at best.
With what you know about the current situation, could the Nittany Lions be headed into a second coming of the "Dark Years?"
This year's current 6-5 mark isn't terrible, but it's worth noting just how the team got to this point. After scraping out a win against Syracuse in the opener, the team went on to win overtime thrillers against Michigan and Illinois.
With a couple of different bounces of the ball, this team could have easily been 3-8 heading into the last week of the season.
That might be a "glass half empty" way of viewing a season with all of the outside noise that is surrounding the program. But anybody that has watched this season knows that this isn't the strongest of 6-5 teams.
Next year projects to be about the same. Hopefully.
The 2014 version could potentially be more talented in spots than this current squad, but there may be as many as 15 new starters. Several of them could be freshmen.
One difference between the current situation and the status of Penn State when it entered the initial "Dark Years" is the young talent.
It's not just Christian Hackenberg, as that Nittany Lions team also had a promising quarterback in the form of Zack Mills for four years.
There is a young core consisting of guys like Akeel Lynch, Adam Breneman, Geno Lewis, Brandon Bell and Jordan Lucas. Those guys are all feeling their way right now but they'll soon be experienced upperclassmen.
In the meantime, look for Bill O'Brien to lean on his soon-to-be senior running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton to keep things afloat.
This is a young team that may somehow be even younger next year. After that, a dedicated coaching staff with a roster full of players that they chose should have this thing turned around.
Despite how bad this year has been and the glaring truth that next year could be worse, two mediocre years should not earn a "Dark Years II" moniker. A third year, however...