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Know your foe: Penn State Nittany Lions

September 4, 2013
Old Main

Old Main was built in 1863

The Penn State Nittany Lions have been well-covered elsewhere; much of this post is drawn from Wikipedia articles (Pennsylvania State University, Penn State Nittany Lions football).

Penn State

The Pennsylvania State University, commonly referred to as “Penn State” or “PSU”, is a public research university with campuses and facilities throughout the state of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1855, the university has a threefold mission of teaching, research, and public service. Its instructional mission includes undergraduate, graduate, professional and continuing education offered through resident instruction and online delivery. Its University Park campus, the flagship campus, lies within the Borough of State College and College Township, Pennsylvania. The Penn State Dickinson School of Law has facilities located in both Carlisle and University Park and the College of Medicine is located in Hershey. Penn State has another 19 commonwealth campuses and 5 special-mission campuses located across the state.

Penn State University Park is ranked among the top 15 public universities nationally and is considered to be one of America’s “Public Ivy” universities, which recognizes top public research universities in the United States. Annual enrollment at the University Park campus totals more than 45,000 graduate and undergraduate students, making it one of the largest universities in the United States. The university’s total enrollment in 2012-13 was approximately 96,600 across its 24 campuses and online through its World Campus. Penn State offers more than 160 majors among all its campuses and administers a $1.83 billion USD (as of June 2011) endowment. The university’s research enterprise exceeded $765 million for the 2009 fiscal year, and in fiscal year 2008 Penn State was ranked 11th among U.S. universities in research income by the National Science Foundation. The university boasts the largest student-run philanthropy in the world, the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (also known as THON), and has one of the top intercollegiate athletic programs in the nation. Penn State was an early leader in the movement for diversity admitting its first two women in 1871 and its first African-American student in 1899. It was one of the first schools to insist on integration in athletics.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State’s mascot is the Nittany Lion, a representation of a type of mountain lion that once roamed what is now University Park. The school’s official colors, now blue and white, were originally black and dark pink. Penn State participates in the NCAA Division I and the Big Ten Conference for most sports. A few sports participate in different divisions/conferences: men’s volleyball in the Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, men’s lacrosse in the Colonial Athletic Association, and women’s lacrosse in American Lacrosse conference. The fencing teams operate as independents.

Athletic teams at Penn State have won 68 national collegiate team championships. There have been another 54 national collegiate championships, by either individuals or club teams. The 40 NCAA Championships ranks seventh all time in NCAA Division I, and is the most of any Big Ten school. Recent championships won include Women’s Rugby, Men’s Gymnastics, Men’s/Women’s Fencing, Men’s Volleyball, and Women’s Volleyball in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 and Men’s/Women’s Fencing in 2009 won their respective national titles. Since joining the Big Ten in 1991, Penn State teams have won 60 regular season conference titles and 13 tournament titles, including fourteen consecutive titles in women’s soccer (longest streak in Big Ten athletic history), and eight straight in women’s volleyball (the longest streak in Big Ten volleyball history). Penn State has one of the most successful overall athletic programs in the country, as evidenced by its rankings in the NACDA Director’s Cup, a list compiled by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics that charts institutions’ overall success in college sports. From the Cup’s inception in the 1993–1994 season through the 2007–2008 season, the Nittany Lions have finished in the top 10 eight times and the top five four times, and have finished in the top 25 every year. In 1999, Sporting News named Penn State as the country’s best overall athletic program, citing its consistent and wide-ranging athletic successes along with its athletes’ long-standing tradition of excelling in the classroom. Penn State placed 6th in Sports Illustrated’s top 25 rankings for athletic success for the 2007-08 academic year, the highest of any Big Ten school.

The University opened a new Penn State All-Sports Museum in February 2002. This two-level 10,000-square-foot museum is located inside Beaver Stadium. In addition to the school funded athletics, club sports also play a major role in the University, with over 68 club sport organizations meeting regularly to date. Many club teams compete nationally in their respective sports. The Penn State Ski Team, which competes as part of the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) in the Allegheny Conference, as well as the Penn State Swim Club, which competes in the American Swimming Association – University League (ASAU), are just a few examples. Some other clubs include baseball, squash, karate, crew, and sailing.

Penn State Nittany Lions football

Beaver Stadium

Beaver Stadium: we’ll talk more about this place another day

Despite widespread success in the overall athletic program, however, the school is best known for its football team. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has the second largest seating capacity of any stadium in the nation, slightly behind Michigan Stadium. For decades the team was led by Joe Paterno, who, in 2011, was fired in his 45th year as head coach as a result of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. Paterno was in a close competition with Bobby Bowden, the head coach for Florida State, for the most wins ever in FBS history. This competition effectively ended with Paterno still leading following Bowden’s retirement after the 2010 Gator Bowl, but in the penalties for the sex abuse scandal 111 wins were vacated, dropping Paterno to 12th. Paterno died on January 22, 2012, at the age of 85.

On July 23, 2012, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced a series of sanctions against Penn State and the Nittany Lions football team for the role of their leadership in the Penn State sex abuse scandal. The sanctions include a fine of $60 million (to be paid into an endowment for programs aimed at preventing child sex abuse), a four-year postseason ban (including the Big Ten conference championship game), loss of 20 scholarships per year over a four-year period, a limit on incoming recruiting classes to 15 scholarships (instead of 25) for the next four years, and the vacating all Penn State victories from 1998 through 2011. The team was also placed on probation for five years.

Penn State’s most well known athletic cheer is “We are…Penn State.” Typically, the students and cheerleaders shout, “We are,” followed by a response of “Penn State” from the rest of the fans. This is typically done three or four times, and followed by “Thank you…” “… you’re welcome!” when completed.

Penn State’s football team has won two consensus national championships (1982, 1986) and claims five additional national championships (1911, 1912, 1969, 1981, 1994) by major selectors. For 105 of their 125 seasons the team was independent; they won the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Football Association championship in 1891, the conference’s only year, and have won three Big Ten championships (1994, 2005, 2008)since joining in 1993. The school has produced a slew of NFL players.


The football team is widely noted for their simple game uniforms. They only wear white pants, and the jerseys are simple blue for home games, and white for away games. The team is only allowed to wear simple black shoes with white calf socks for game days, though blue tights are permitted underneath the white socks for cold weather games. The helmet is white with a blue stripe down the center, and a blue on white “Penn State” sticker covers up the forehead helmet logo. No team logos, conference logos, numbers, or other stickers are permitted on the helmet, though two Nike logos are on facemask visors that some players choose to wear. Penn State has worn bowl decals only since the 1997 Fiesta Bowl. Before that, Penn State always declined the decals so they can play out of their simple game uniforms. Since 2012, Penn State players have worn names on their uniforms, plus blue ribbons in support of the victims of child abuse.

“Linebacker U”

Penn State is often referred to as Linebacker U for its reputation of producing outstanding linebackers. Dennis Onkotz was a two time All American in 1968 and 1969, and played on two undefeated teams. Possibly the greatest linebacker in Penn State history, Jack Ham finished his career with 251 tackles, blocked two punts, and went on to play on two undefeated teams. Ham later went on to the NFL, playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Greg Buttle was a terrifying linebacker during the 1973-1975 seasons, finishing with an astonishing 305 tackles in his junior and senior year. He was drafted by the New York Jets and is apart of the All Jet team. Lavar Arrington was an extremely physical linebacker who was all over the place. Arrington finished with 319 career tackles and 139 tackles for losses. He was later drafted 2nd overall by the Washington Redskins. Paul Posluszny became the face of Penn State football from 2003–2006, and is the definition of Linebacker U. Posluszny won the Dick Butkus Award in 2005 and the Chuck Bednarik Award in 2005 and 2006. He finished with 372 tackles, and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. Dan Connor finished his career as the all-time leading tackler for Penn State with 419 and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers while Cameron Wake went on to capture MVP honors for the British Columbia Lions in the Canadian Football League before moving on to the Miami Dolphins and leading the National Football League in sacks during the 2010 season. Tamba Hali was the 20th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft and led the AFC in sacks during the 2010 NFL season helping the Kansas City Chiefs reach the playoffs.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Block E permalink
    September 4, 2013 9:27 am

    “The school’s official colors, now blue and white, were originally black and dark pink.”

    Finally, an alternate jersey that hasn’t been tried yet!


  1. EMU at Penn State open thread » Eagle Totem Eagle Totem

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