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Penn State beats Wisconsin, wins Big Ten Championship Game, 38-31

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These Nittany Lions have been called many things in the past five years. You can add another name to that list: Champions.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Wisconsin vs Penn State Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Most people wrote their redemptions stories (and requisite “how dare you be happy for your team” stories) last week. I wanted to wait until everything was said and done to write mine. I wanted to say “Big Ten Champion Penn State” before I said anything else. And here we are.

We all know how it all started. And we all have dozens of opinions on the matter. What there aren’t, however, are minds to be changed. So let’s not dwell on that part.

Let’s instead talk about how Penn State found itself with 15 less players in the summer of 2012. Let’s talk about how Penn State found itself with a decimated recruiting class in 2012 and 2013, and a still-handicapped class in 2014. By the time the sanctions were lifted in 2014, Penn State was down to the 40s in available scholarship players. Practices had to be altered, for multiple years, just to avoid the risk of injuring the few available players on the team.

But that was the bad part. The good part is that on that fateful day, a group of seniors made their pledge. They decided to stick with the program through thick and thin. They gave their commitment to a little known coach, whose greatest accomplishment was getting into a public argument with Tom Brady. But they weren’t the only ones. A group of recruits also gave their commitments to said coach, knowing full well that they wouldn’t see the postseason in their entire careers, and they didn’t care. They kept the team afloat. When that coach left, and our current coach took over, a few more recruits over the next three years made sure that these Nittany Lions did not endure a single losing season. No matter how ugly it got, no matter how much criticism they received, no matter circumstance, these players found a way to come out on the better side of it. When the voices got loudest, this team focused most.

Yes, a game was played today. And yeah, the Lions got worked early, falling big to Wisconsin in the first half. And as always, the second half proved to be the difference maker for the Lions. Wisconsin tried to come back with the same game plan, but the Lions were having none of it. The 14-point lead the Badgers worked so hard to get in the first half suddenly evaporated in the third quarter, and before you knew it, the Badgers were the ones playing nervous and skittish. When it was all said and done, Penn State outscored Wisconsin 24-3 in the second half.

All of that is inconsequential, however. This game was the icing on the cake. This game was just the culmination of everything these players have been through. This game was the reward for the perseverance everyone on this program has shown over the past five years. This game was, in no small terms, a message to the world that Penn State is here. They took the hits, and are now ready to hit back.

Penn State’s future will be decided on Sunday. They’ll either play in the College Football Playoff, or they’ll get the automatic bid to the Rose Bowl. Regardless, Penn State will be playing in a bowl game that none of us would have imagined possible before the season, or after the Pitt loss, or after the Michigan loss. Penn State will have a 2016 on Beaver Stadium and a Big Ten trophy in the case to remember for years to come. And that, my friends, is all that matters.

And this is just the beginning.