The 2013 college football season began with Penn State still embroiled in controversy and a wave of confusion.
While the Nittany Lions escaped the NCAA death penalty that would have shuttered the program, Penn State was still reeling from heavy sanctions.
Second-year head coach Bill O’Brien was dealing with his first true year of sanction fallout, having lost a number of experienced players to graduations and, while keeping the class largely intact, losing a number of talented class of 2013 commits.
While 2012 was expected to be difficult, 2013 was thought to be the beginning of a extended stretch of losing for the Penn State program.
Fans and O’Brien alike entered the season with a plethora of questions.
Who would start at quarterback? If it was true freshman Christian Hackenberg, could he handle the pressure and the speed of the game? Where will offensive production come from? Can the Nittany Lions handle defensive attrition with just 65 scholarship players?
In time, those questions were answered.
Hackenberg was named the starter and was up and down in a pair of wins to open the season, first over Syracuse and then over Eastern Michigan.
Questions arose as Blake Bortles, Storm Johnson and company came into Beaver Stadium and walked away 34-31 victors, but the longer the season progressed the more apparent it was that this was not your typical Golden Knights team.
After a win over Kent State and an embarrassing loss to Indiana, the first in program history, Hackenberg produced maybe the crown jewel of his PSU career on Oct. 12 against Michigan.
In the annual Whiteout under the lights, the true freshman helped lead his team the length of the field with under two minutes to go in regulation and tie the game, leading to an eventual 43-40 win in a four-overtime thriller.
The season was up and down from that point on, as Ohio State waxed the Nittany Lions and the team went through a rough stretch in the back half of the schedule. Ultimately, Penn State capped its season with a 31-24 victory over a ranked Wisconsin team in which it was a 24-point underdog.
A 7-5 record for a team that many felt shouldn’t have gotten the chance to play is certainly impressive, but it’s the amount of NFL talent that really opens your eyes.
A roster that was supposed to be one of the worst in the history of the program ended up producing 18 players currently on an NFL roster.
Players like Adrian Amos and Allen Robinson are currently starring at the next level.
The offensive line featured three future NFL starters in John Urschel, Gary Gilliam and Donovan Smith.
The tight end group may have been the best in country, featuring NFL players Jesse James and Kyle Carter in addition to 2017 USA Today All-American Adam Breneman.
On defense, DaQuan Jones, Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson dominated the interior.
Amos, Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams all roamed the secondary.
When all is said and done, the 2013 not only makes the grade as a solid team, it appears to be one of the most talent-heavy rosters the Nittany Lions have had since the turn of the century.