They have been playing college football at Penn State since 1887, yet no one in their wildest dreams could have predicted the events that have unfolded over the past 10 months.
Penn State is a very different place these days. For starters, as a result of NCAA sanctions, there will be no bowl games or postseason play for four years, a significant reduction in scholarships, a hefty fine, and 112 vacated wins.
Bill O'Brien knew it wouldn't be easy replacing Joe Paterno, who was fired last November during his 46th season as the school's football coach. He probably didn't foresee just how tough it would be.
Through it all, O'Brien has remained steadfast in his commitment to the program and university, vowing to lead the Nittany Lions through their darkest days. Although some players have chosen to move on since word of the sanctions came down and they were given a free pass to go elsewhere, and despite the penalties that will certainly hurt the program, they're still playing football at Penn State.
Here is a profile of the 2012 Penn State Nittany Lions:
All-Time Record: The Nittany Lions have an overall record of 827-361-42. Their 827 wins are the fifth most in the nation. However, every single one of the 112 victories from 1998 to 2011 was vacated last month, part of the sanctions the NCAA levied on the university.
Bowl Record: Penn State has 27 bowl victories (third most in the nation), but six of them will be erased by the recently imposed sanctions. The program has appeared in 44 bowl games (eighth most in the nation), and won two national championships under Paterno in 1982 and 1986.
Conference: Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference in 1990. Prior to that, the Nittany Lions played as an independent. The school's first year playing Big Ten football was 1993. Penn State is 96-56 overall in conference play, winning the Big Ten championship three times, though two of those championships have also been taken away as a result of the sanctions.
Rivals: Penn State plays Ohio State every year, so that's a huge rivalry. When the Nittany Lions play Michigan or Michigan State, those are big games as well. Nebraska is the Big 10's new kid on the block and that should be a nice matchup in the years to come. Pittsburgh, which will join the ACC next year, and Temple, headed to the Big East this season, are in-state rivals.
Stadium: With a capacity of 106,572, Beaver Stadium, the home of the Nittany Lions, is one of college football's marquee venues. Penn State is 252-63 at Beaver Stadium, which was renovated prior to the 2001 season. When the team first started they played on the Old Main lawn, then Beaver Field, which was dismantled, moved to the east end of campus, and reassembled as Beaver Stadium in 1960.
Heisman Winners: Penn State has had its fair share of talent, but only one player has won the Heisman Trophy. John Cappelletti took home the award in 1973 when he rushed for 1,522 yards.
The NFL: As of last December, heading into Week 16 of the National Football League, there were 33 players from Penn State on NFL rosters, including NaVorro Bowman, Levi Brown, Kerry Collins, Aaron Maybin, Kareem McKenzie, and Paul Posluszny, to name just a few. Household names like LaVar Arrington, Matt Bahr, Shane Conlan, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Matt Millen, and Curt Warner played at Penn State. There are plenty more.
Team Colors: About as traditional as you can get, Penn State is known for its navy blue and white colors. This year, for the first time, the team will include names on the back of each player's jersey.
Mascot: The student body chose the mountain lion as the school's mascot in 1906. Located in the Nittany Valley at the foot of Mount Nittany, Penn State became the Nittany Lions.
2012: Conference games against Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin will present major challenges for Penn State. The Nittany Lions will play Navy and Temple at home and will open up on Sept. 1 against Ohio. Nine starters and 34 letterwinners are returning.
Charles Costello is a lifelong fan of the Penn State Nittany Lions.
History - Penn State Athletics
More History - Penn State Athletics
Quick Facts - Penn State Athletics
Nittany Lions in the NFL - Penn State Athletics
Beaver Stadium - Penn State Athletics
Mascot - Penn State Athletics
Heisman Trophy - Heisman.com