UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State's 2012 senior class will play its final game Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
Its legacy has been cemented as the class that kept the program together in the wake of the NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Absent any likely No. 1 draft picks, there have been greater players at each of their positions over the years, but none who have shown more leadership, on and off the field, in a time of crisis.
A total of 30 Nittany Lions will be recognized and, at Bill O'Brien's urging, parents will also be called out with their sons in a tweaking of past protocol that will represent a fitting touch - especially since the suffering of the past year went well beyond the players.
The core group of seniors is pictured in today's center spread of Gameday, and there's little question the biggest ovation will be reserved, justifiably so, for linebacker Michael Mauti.
After the sanctions came down in late July, it was Mauti, more than anyone, who assumed the task of convincing players to stay when they could have transferred without loss of eligibility and played somewhere else immediately.
Instead, he became the face of the program and, along with Mike Zordich, stood in front of those who stayed and sent a message of unity to the Nittany Nation - an image that will long be remembered after everybody forgets this team's final record, whether it's 8-4 or 7-5.
In the cruelest twist of fate, Mauti was injured last week and will limp out of the tunnel Saturday. His introduction will be among the more emotional moments in Beaver Stadium history - and, unfortunately, there have been quite a few lately.
While nobody overcame more physically than Mauti, who has suffered three major knee injuries, it's safe to say nobody overcame more in every other way than Matt McGloin.
O'Brien has a saying that's served the team well - "next man up" - as a response to defections and injuries.
McGloin had to overcome being the "last man up." As a walk-on, a term he detested, he waited behind Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin, then endured the talk of expectations for Rob Bolden and Paul Jones.
Each left, and McGloin, the last man standing, used the opportunity to etch himself in the PSU record books as one of the most productive quarterbacks in Nittany Lion history.
No doubt aided by a pro-style offense and new coaching staff that places high emphasis and responsibility on the quarterback position, McGloin will leave with a number of records, including season completions (251), season yardage (3,066) and, maybe the most coveted of all passing marks, career touchdowns (45).
Some ill-timed and forced interceptions against Florida in the 2011 Outback Bowl and against Ohio State and Nebraska this year showed McGloin is challenged by faster, more athletic defenses, but isn't every quarterback?
McGloin's presence has allowed the Lions to generally beat the teams they've been supposed to - something Joe Paterno made a career out of doing - and, without the Scranton gunslinger, there's little doubt Penn State would have been looking at sub-.500 records for the past three seasons.
There's also little doubt that McGloin has been among the most underappreciated players Penn State has ever had, and it was a bit humorous when it was announced last week that he's a finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, presented to the nation's most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on.
McGloin should win that unanimously.
Over the last couple of weeks, the seniors have been coming to grips with their Penn State careers about to end.
They were part of Paterno's 400th and 409th victories.
They watched a previously respected community leader arrested, tried and jailed on sickening charges.
They saw their legendary coach fired, and they watched their campus riot.
They welcomed a new regime with an open mind.
They said goodbye to their former coaching staff, and they buried their old coach.
Then the NCAA decided to weigh in.
One of the best players in the class said he'll go through the tunnel with tears in his eyes Saturday, but what's transpired over the last 12 months will take him years to digest.
"It might not hit me for a couple years," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said, "or maybe when my kids and grandkids ask me what it was like to get through that."
Clip the picture from today's center spread: It's the greatest senior class, regardless of record, that Penn State has ever had, a class that kept the program alive.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.