Penn State Nittany Lions football

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Penn State Nittany Lions football
2017 Penn State Nittany Lions football team
Penn State Athletics wordmark.svg
First season 1887
Athletic director Sandy Barbour
Head coach James Franklin
4th season, 35–17 (.673)
Other staff Brent Pry (Defensive Coordinator)
Stadium Beaver Stadium
(Capacity: 106,572)
Field surface Grass
Location State College, Pennsylvania
Conference Big Ten Conference
Division East (since 2014)
Past conferences Independent (1887–1890,1892–1992)
PIFA (1891)
All-time record 877–387–42 (.688)
Bowl record 28–15–2 (.644)
Claimed nat'l titles 2 (1982, 1986)
Unclaimed nat'l titles 14 (1911, 1912, 1887, 1894, 1909, 1920, 1921, 1947, 1968, 1969, 1973, 1977, 1981, 1994)
Conference titles 5 (PIFA 1891, Big Ten 1994, 2005, 2008, 2016)
Division titles 2 (2011, 2016)
Rivalries Pittsburgh Panthers (rivalry)
Ohio State Buckeyes (rivalry)
Michigan State Spartans (rivalry)
West Virginia Mountaineers (rivalry)
Alabama Crimson Tide (rivalry)
Maryland Terrapins (rivalry)
Syracuse Orange (rivalry)
Heisman winners 1
Consensus All-Americans 41
Colors Blue and White[1]
Fight song Fight On, State
Mascot Nittany Lion
Marching band Penn State Blue Band

The Penn State Nittany Lions team represents the Pennsylvania State University in college football. The Nittany Lions compete in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision as a member of the Big Ten Conference, which they joined in 1993 after playing as an Independent from their founding through 1992. .[2][3][4]

Established in 1887, the Nittany Lions have achieved numerous on-field successes, the most notable of which include two consensus national championships (1982 and 1986), four Big Ten Conference Championships (in 1994, 2005, 2008, and 2016), and 46 appearances in college bowl games, with a postseason bowl record of 28–16–2. The team is also #8 all-time in total-wins, one game behind Oklahoma and Alabama.[5] The Nittany Lions play their home games at Beaver Stadium, located on-campus in University Park, Pennsylvania. With an official seating capacity of 106,572, Beaver Stadium is the second-largest stadium in the western hemisphere, behind only Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The team is currently coached by James Franklin.


Early history (1887–1917)[edit]

The first recorded game occurred on November 12, 1881, when Penn State traveled to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to play Bucknell, known until 1886 as the University of Lewisburg. Penn State won 9–0, which was nine goals to none. At the time, this was really a game of "American rugby." The father of American football, Walter Camp, did not develop the "scrimmage", the "first down" and the "gridiron" (yard markings) until 1882. Although this game was reported in two State College newspapers and the Mirror (University of Lewisburg campus newspaper), Bucknell denies that this game ever happened. Penn State did not field teams from 1882 through 1886.

Penn State played its first season in 1887,[6] but had no head coach for their first five years, from 1887–1891.[6] The teams played its home games on the Old Main lawn on campus in State College, Pennsylvania. They compiled a 12–8–1 record in these seasons, playing as an independent from 1887–1890.

In 1891, the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Football Association (PIFA) was formed. It consisted of Bucknell (University of Lewisburg), Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, Haverford, Penn State and Swarthmore. Lafayette and Lehigh were excluded because it was felt they would dominate the Association. Penn State won the championship with a 4–1–0 record. Bucknell's record was 3–1–1 (losing to Franklin & Marshall and tying Dickinson). The Association was dissolved prior to the 1892 season.[6]

In 1894, the Penn State football team played the Muncy, Pennsylvania high school team. Penn State took an early 24-0 lead, whereupon Muncy was allowed 14 players rather than the usual 11. That helped, but at half time the score was 42-0. Muncy was then granted 7 downs instead of four. With 14 players, 7 downs, and Penn State letting its youngest players finish out the game, the final score was only 54-0.[7]

George Hoskins, Penn State's first head football coach

George W. Hoskins was the first head football coach at Penn State.[8][non-primary source needed] He posted a 17–4–4 record in his four seasons from 1892–1895 as head coach, and his .760 winning percentage ranks highest in program history.[8] His first team played its home game on the Old Main lawn on campus in State College, Pennsylvania, before the 500-seat Beaver Field opened in 1893.[8]

He was succeeded by Samuel B. Newton,[9][page needed] who posted a 12–14 (.462) record in three seasons, 1896–1898.[10]

Sam Boyle coached for only one year in 1899 and compiled a 4–6–1 record (.409).[11]

Pop Golden coached the Nittany Lions for three seasons from 1900–1902, tallying a record of 16–12–1 (.569).[12]

Daniel A. Reed took over for the 1903 season and went 5–3 (.625).[13]

Tom Fennell coached the Nittany Lions for five seasons from 1904–1908, posting a 33–17–1 (.657) record.[14] In 1907 the school adopted the Nittany Lion mascot, a mountain lion named after nearby Mount Nittany.[15][page needed] An early mascot was "Old Coaly", a mule that hauled stone for the original Old Main (completed in 1863 and demolished in 1929).

Bill Hollenback took over the Nittany Lions as head coach for the 1909 season and went undefeated at 5–0–2,[16] but left for Missouri for 1910.[17] Bill's older brother Jack Hollenback took over for the 1910 season and went 5–2–1 (.688),[18] but Bill returned to Penn State for 1911–1914.[19] Bill went 23–9–2 in his second tenure for a combined record of 28–9–4 (.732).[16] In 1911 and 1912, his teams went 8–0–1 and 8–0 and were awarded retroactive national championships by the National Championship Foundation which are recognized by the NCAA.[16]

Head coach Dick Harlow brought a new form of defense, trying to go in-between or around offensive blockers rather than try to overpower them.[20][non-primary source needed] Harlow's Nittany Lions compiled a 20–8 (.714) record in his three seasons (1915–1917)[21] and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach for his accomplishments.[20]

Hugo Bezdek years (1918–1929)[edit]

Hugo Bezdek was Penn State's head football coach for 12 seasons[22] and was the Nittany Lions' first athletics director.[23][non-primary source needed] Bezdek posted a 65–30–11 record,[22] which included two undefeated seasons and a berth in the 1922 Rose Bowl, a game they lost.[22] Bezdek's Nittany Lions posted a losing record in only two of Bezdek's seasons, going 1–2–1 in 1918 and 3–5–1 in 1928.[22] Bezdek retired after the 1929 season and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1954.[23]

Bob Higgins years (1930–1948)[edit]

Bob Higgins returned to his alma mater and served as Penn State's head football coach for 19 seasons.[24] He compiled a 91–57–11 overall record, which included 11 winning seasons and only five losing seasons.[24] Higgins' 1947 team tied SMU in the Cotton Bowl.[25][non-primary source needed] Higgins was forced to retire due to poor health following the 1948 season.[25] He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1954.[25]

Joe Bedenk (1949)[edit]

For one season, Joe Bedenk, also a Penn State alum, served as the Nittany Lions' head football coach.[26] He was promoted from offensive line coach after the retirement of his predecessor.[27] Bedenk posted a 5–4 record in his 1949,[26] his lone season as head coach, before requesting to return to his previous post as offensive line coach.[27]

Rip Engle years (1950–1965)[edit]

Rip Engle came to Penn State from Brown.[28][non-primary source needed][29] Engle posted a 104–48–4 record during his 16 season tenure as head coach and developed a game known as Angleball as a way for his players to maintain fitness in the off-season.[28][29] Engle never had a losing season at Penn State, and his 5–5 final season was his only non-winning season.[30] His 1959 and 1960 Nittany Lions teams won the Liberty Bowl, while his 1961 and 1962 teams reached the Gator Bowl, winning the first and losing the second.[30] Engle retired following the 1965 season and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1973.[28]

Joe Paterno era (1966–2011)[edit]

Joe Paterno

Penn State assistant Joe Paterno was promoted to head coach following the retirement of Engle.[27][non-primary source needed] Paterno spent 46 seasons as the head football coach, the longest tenure of any head coach in the FBS, and 16 more seasons as an assistant, making his 62 total years coaching at Penn State the most of any coach at any school.[27] Under Paterno, Penn State played as an Independent from 1966–1992,[27] and he continued to coach them when they joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993–2011.[27] He also served as Penn State's athletic director from 1980–1982. His final record is 409–136–3.[31] His teams won national championships in 1982 and 1986,[31] posted non-losing records in all seasons but five,[31] and appeared in 37 bowl games with 24 wins.[31] His teams also won the Orange Bowl in 1968, 1969, 1973 and 2005;[31] the Fiesta Bowl in 1977, 1980, 1981, 1986, 1991 and 1996;[31] the Sugar Bowl in 1982; and the Rose Bowl in 1994.[31] In June 1990,[32] Penn State's athletics program, after a century as a Division I-A independent, joined the Big Ten Conference. Beaver Stadium was expanded six times during Paterno's tenure. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and was a major reason why the longtime rule of waiting until retirement to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was changed to any coach over 75 years of age.[27] Players including Kerry Collins, Charlie Zapiec, Matt Millen, Shane Conlan, Jack Ham, Dennis Onkotz, Franco Harris, Greg Buttle, Keith Dorney, John Cappelletti, Curt Warner, Larry Johnson, LaVar Arrington and Ted Kwalick played collegiately for him.[33] He won numerous coaching and sportsman honors during his long run at Penn State.[31]

Paterno has the most wins in FBS football and in college sports (409). As a result of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal involving longtime assistant Jerry Sandusky,[34] Paterno was fired in November 2011,[34][35] and all of the team's wins from 1998–2011 were forfeited. Paterno's statue outside Beaver Stadium was also taken down.[36] Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley finished out the 2011 season as interim head coach after Paterno's ouster.[37] The lost wins dropped Paterno from first to twelfth on the all-time wins list,[38] but on January 16, 2015, the NCAA restored Paterno's vacated wins, again making him the winningest FBS football coach.[39]

Bill O'Brien (2012–2013)[edit]

Bill O'Brien

New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was hired as the 15th head football coach at Penn State, taking over the scandal-ridden Nittany Lions football program in January 2012.[40] Early in O'Brien's tenure, the NCAA sanctioned Penn State with a four-season postseason ban and a loss of 40 scholarships due to the child sex abuse scandal.[41] O'Brien posted an 8–4 record in his first season as head coach of the Nittany Lions,[42] a much better record than most anticipated.

O'Brien's 2013 Nittany Lions team posted a 7–5 record in the second of four years they were ineligible for the postseason.[43] In January 2014, Bill O'Brien left Penn State to accept the head coaching position with the NFL's Houston Texans.[44]

James Franklin (2014–present)[edit]

On January 11, 2014, Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin was hired as the 16th Penn State head football coach.[45] He is the first African American head football coach at Penn State.[46] In Franklin's first year, the NCAA lifted Penn State's postseason ban and the Nittany Lions were bowl eligible. The Nittany Lions were named to the Pinstripe Bowl where they won against the Boston College Eagles on December 27, 2014 at Yankee Stadium.[47]

To start off the 2015 season, Penn State lost to Temple 27-10, its first loss to the Owls since 1941. The loss was followed by victories against Buffalo, Rutgers, San Diego State, Army and Indiana. The Nittany Lions then lost to Ohio State 38-10 in Columbus before winning, 31-30, at Maryland. The victory against Maryland brought the Nittany Lions to six wins, making them bowl eligible for the second year since the postseason ban was lifted. Penn State then shut out the Illinois Fighting Illini 39-0 in the second to last home game of the 2015 season. They then lost to Michigan in Happy Valley 28-16 and to Michigan State 55-16 at MSU. The win-loss record for Penn State in the 2015 regular season was 7-5, and 7-6 after a loss to Georgia in the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville.

The 2016 season included an upset over #2 Ohio State during a "White-Out" in State College. Following the win, Penn State was ranked 24th in the AP Poll, its first ranking since 2011.[48] Penn State finished the regular season 10-2, 8-1 in Big Ten play. After winning a tiebreaker against rivals Ohio State, Penn State went on to claim the Big Ten East title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis against Big Ten West champion Wisconsin, which they won after trailing 28-14 in the first half. They outscored the Badgers 24-3 in the second half to take home the Nittany Lions' fourth Big Ten Title.[49]

Current coaching staff[edit]

Position Name First Year Alma mater
Head Coach James Franklin[50] 2014 East Stroudsburg (1994)
Defensive Coordinator/Associate Head Coach/Linebackers Brent Pry[50] 2014 Buffalo (1993)
Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Ricky Rahne[50] 2014 Cornell (2002)
Tight ends Tyler Bowen[50] 2018 Maryland (2009)
Wide receivers/Offensive Recruiting Coordinator Josh Gattis[50] 2014 Wake Forest (2006)
Cornerbacks/Defensive Recruiting Coordinator Terry Smith[50] 2014 Penn State (1991)
Safeties/Co-Defensive Coordinator Tim Banks[50] 2016 Central Michigan (1995)
Offensive Line Matt Limegrover[50] 2016 University of Chicago (1990)
Defensive Line/Run Game Coordinator Sean Spencer[50] 2014 Clarion (1995)
Assistant Defensive Line/Special Teams Coordinator Phil Galiano[50] 2018 Shippensburg University
Strength and Conditioning Dwight Galt[50] 2014 Maryland



"Nittanyville", originally known as Paternoville, is the name attributed to the student tradition of camping out in front of Beaver Stadium prior to a home football game. Each week before a home game, students camp out in front of the stadium in order to hold their positions in line for front-row seats. Football players, the Blue Band, local food vendors and even the coaching staff frequently visit Nittanyville, pepping up the students as game days draw near. Nittanyville is governed by the student-run Nittanyville Coordination Committee.[51] The tradition was established during the 2005 football season, when students began setting up tents and "camping" in front of Beaver Stadium one week before the game with rival school Ohio State on October 8.[52]

Success with Honor[edit]

Joe Paterno was widely known for his "grand experiment" in which he challenged his players to be successful both on the field and in the classroom. In 2011, the Nittany Lion football team posted an 87% graduation rate, tied with Stanford for No. 10 overall among the nation's 120 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions, above the national average of 67%.[53]

The June 2012 conviction of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on multiple counts of child sexual abuse marred the "Success with Honor" image.[54] President Rodney Erickson, athletics director Dave Joyner, and head football coach Bill O'Brien, all of whom accepted their jobs in the wake of the scandal, have made statements in which they express commitment to maintaining integrity at the university and within the athletics programs.[55]

In 2012, a group of alumni and supporters established a non-profit organization (501.c.3 and registered trademark) that will build upon the "Success with Honor" motto. Their mission is to promote and support charitable endeavors as well as to inspire others to "Get in the Game." Success with Honor is a Social Network Community that has identified more than 60+ charities. Success with Honor helps individuals to identify and connect with causes they’d like to volunteer their skills, time, and/or money to. Similarly, SWH assists charities in finding individuals to meet their current needs.[56]

The Nittany Lions playing against the Virginia Cavaliers in 2012 at Scott Stadium: note the simple uniforms of the Nittany Lions during their away games.


The 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.[57] The team is only allowed to wear simple black Nike 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 started to wear bowl decals only starting with 1997 Fiesta Bowl. Before that, Penn State always declined the decals so they can play out of their simple game uniforms. The blue and white uniforms replaced pink and black ones in 1890.[58]

The uniforms became even simpler for the 2011 season, as the white cuffs and collars on the home jerseys and the corresponding blue cuffs and collars on the road jerseys were eliminated, leaving the jerseys solid blue and white, respectively.

In 2012 Penn State started wearing names on their uniforms for the first time as a way to note the players who stuck with the school through the scandal and a blue ribbon in support the victims of child abuse.[59]

In 2013, the Nittany Lion logo was added to the base of the jersey collar along with the Big Ten logo on the right side of the jersey.

Starting in 2015, the names that were added throughout the 2012–14 seasons to honor those who stayed with the program were removed and the team reverted to the traditional nameless jerseys while still retaining the Nittany Lion logo at the base of the jersey collar. The team also began sporting new Nike Elite 51 jerseys which feature a new design on the collars.[60] In addition, the team added the words Nittany Lions onto the back of the football helmets.


Captains are chosen by the team, with the head coach's approval. Being named a captain is an honor almost always given to a senior, but there are some notable exceptions: Linebacker Sean Lee was named a captain in the beginning of Spring practice in 2008, the beginning of his 4th year with the team. However, he suffered a torn ACL during spring practice, redshirted in 2008, and returned as a captain again in 2009. The most recent example of a "true" junior being named was Paul Posluszny, who was named a captain in both 2005 and 2006, his junior and senior years, respectively. The last time a junior was named captain before Posluszny was in 1968, when Steve Smear and Mike Reid were named captains during their junior years.[61] In 2014, Christian Hackenberg became the first true sophomore to be named team captain.[62]

Linebacker U[edit]

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.[63]
  • 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.[63]
  • Charlie Zapiec a fourth round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, went on to star in the Canadian Football League as a linebacker with the Montreal Alouettes coached by future NFL Legend Marv Levy. Zapiec switched from offensive guard in his senior year and also received All-American honors; in the two years he started as a guard and the one year as a linebacker, he accumulated 34 wins, including three major bowl victories, while suffering only one loss, the best record for a starter at Penn State.
  • Edward William O'Neil, an American football coach and former professional linebacker, played seven seasons in the National Football League (NFL). From 1970–1973, he played linebacker at Penn State. A three-year letterman, he was team captain of the Nittany Lions' undefeated 1973 team and was named an All-American that same season.
  • Greg Buttle was a linebacker during the 1973–1975 seasons, finishing with 305 tackles in his junior and senior year. He was drafted by the New York Jets and is a part of the All Jet team.
  • Shane Conlan was a two-time All-American and defensive MVP of the 1987 National Championship Fiesta Bowl. He was drafted No. 1 by the Bills in 1987, named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was named to three straight Pro Bowls (1988–90).[63]
  • Lavar Arrington finished with 319 career tackles and 139 tackles for losses. He was later drafted second overall by the Washington Redskins.[63]
  • Cameron Wake "Known as Derrick Wake when at Penn State" 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.[64]
  • 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. He played defensive end during his college career.[64]
  • Paul Posluszny played from 2003–2006. 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.[63] Currently playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
  • Dan Connor finished his career as the all-time leading tackler for Penn State with 419 and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers.[63]
  • Sean Lee graduated from Penn State in 2009 and is an inside linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.[64]
  • NaVorro Bowman, drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2010 draft, ranked seventh in the league in tackles in 2011[65] and was named an AP first team All-Pro for his 2011 campaign.
  • Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges were "Co-Linebacker U" in 2012, both achieved over 95 tackles and both were drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.[66][67] Mauti is currently playing with his hometown team New Orleans Saints. Hodges is playing with former PSU Great Navarro Bowman for the San Francisco 49ers.

2011 child sex abuse scandal[edit]

The Penn State child sex abuse scandal centered on then retired Pennsylvania State University football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's sexual assault of two underage boys on or near university property. After an extensive grand jury investigation, Sandusky was indicted on 52 counts of child molestation dating from 1994 to 2009, though some speculate the abuse may date as far back as the 1970s.[68] The trial of Jerry Sandusky on 52 charges of sexual crimes against children started on June 11, 2012, at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania[69][70] and ended on the evening of June 22, 2012, when the jury found Sandusky guilty on 45 of the 48 counts against him.[71][72]

Several high-level school officials were charged with perjury,[73] suspended, or dismissed for allegedly covering up the incidents or failing to notify authorities. In the wake of the scandal, school president Graham Spanier was forced to resign, and head football coach Joe Paterno was fired without cause late in the season, while Sandusky maintained his innocence.[74]

Former FBI director Louis Freeh, whose firm was hired by the Penn State Board of Trustees to conduct an independent investigation into the scandal, concluded, after, ostensibly, conducting over 400 interviews and reviewing over 3.5 million documents, that Paterno, Spanier, Curley and Schultz had "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large."[75][76][77] In an interview conducted by Showtime's 60 Minutes Sports, the former Chief Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Frank Fina, who investigated and prosecuted Jerry Sandusky, stated that he found no evidence that Joe Paterno participated in a cover-up.[78]

On July 23, 2012, NCAA announced that it had fined the Penn State football program $60 million, levied a four-year ban from bowl games and vacated all of the program's 112 wins from 1998 to 2011. They were originally scheduled to lose 10 scholarships from the incoming classes in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, which would have been a loss of 40 total scholarships. They were set to have a maximum of 75 players on scholarship in 2013, then be down to 65 total scholarships for 2014, 2015 and 2016, before increasing back up to 75 in 2017 and return to a full allotment of 85 scholarships for the 2018 season.[79]

However, on September 24, 2013, the NCAA announced they were restoring 25 of the 40 scholarships to Penn State. After losing 10 scholarships from the 2013–2014 incoming class (they only brought in 15 players instead of the normal 25) and only having 75 total players on scholarship, Penn State will have five scholarships added back for 2014–15, so they can bring in 20 new players and have 80 total players on scholarship. They will be back up to the full complement of 25 new players and 85 total scholarships restocked for 2016–17, two years ahead of schedule. So in total they will have only lost 15 scholarships, compared to the original penalty of 40 scholarships.[citation needed]

The decision to return the scholarships was the result of a unanimous decision of the executive committee of the NCAA following a recommendation from the former US Sen. George Mitchell. The NCAA had appointed Mitchell to monitor the progress of Penn State and adopting recommended reforms to enhance their "security, ethics, governance and compliance structure". The decision to accept the recommendation was based upon the belief that the restored scholarships would provide benefits to student-athletes.[80]

Several lawsuits were filed against NCAA related to the levy of penalties. In September 2014 the NCAA, under the auspices of favorable reports from Mitchell, announced that Penn State would be eligible for the 2014 postseason and all scholarships restored in 2015.[81] The team's wins and records that had previously been vacated due to the scandal were restored, pending full approval, as part of a legal settlement in January 2015.[82][83]

Notable seasons[edit]

Perfect seasons[edit]

Penn State has had seven undefeated, untied seasons since the program started in 1887:


National championships[edit]

Penn State has won two consensus national championships, both under Joe Paterno's tenure as coach.

Year Coach Selector Record Bowl
1982 Joe Paterno AP, Coaches 11–1 Won Sugar
1986 Joe Paterno AP, Coaches 12–0 Won Fiesta
Total National Titles 2

Other national championships selections:

1911 • (National Championship Foundation)

1912 • (National Championship Foundation)

1969 • (Foundation for the Analysis of Competitions and Tournaments, Massey Ratings)

1981 • (Dunkel System, Loren Maxwell, Soren Sorenson, The Fleming System)

1994 • (Billingsley Report, DeVold, Foundation for the Analysis of Competitions and Tournaments, Massey Ratings, Matthews Grid Ratings, National Championship Foundation, New York Times, Sagarin Ratings)

The suite boxes on the east side of Beaver Stadium, with the highlighted years (undefeated and championship seasons) added in 2006

Conference championships[edit]

Penn State played as an independent from 1887 through 1890.

On September 26, 1891, the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Football Association (PIFA) was formed. The PIFA consisted of Bucknell, Dickinson, Franklin and Marshall, Haverford, Penn State and Swarthmore. Penn State won the championship with a 4–1–0 PIFA record losing only to Bucknell (Bucknell's record was 3–1–1). The PIFA dissolved prior to the 1892 season.

Penn State then played as an independent again until joining the Big Ten Conference in 1990 and beginning play in 1993. Penn State then won its first Big Ten championship in 1994, they won two more in 2005 and 2008, and they won a fourth under James Franklin in 2016.

Season-by-season records[edit]

Coaching history[edit]

Coach Years Seasons Record Pct. Cnf. Record Pct. Cnf. Titles Bowls Nat. Titles
No coach 1887–1891 5 12–8–1 .595 4–1–0 .800 1
George Hoskins 1892–1895 4 17–4–4 .760
Samuel Newton 1896–1898 3 12–14–0 .462
Sam Boyle 1899 1 4–6–1 .409
Pop Golden 1900–1902 3 16–12–1 .569
Daniel A. Reed 1903 1 5–3–0 .625
Tom Fennell 1904–1908 5 33–17–1 .657
Bill Hollenback 1909, 1911–1914 5 28–9–4 .732
Jack Hollenback 1910 1 5–2–1 .688
Dick Harlow 1915–1917 3 20–8–0 .714
Hugo Bezdek 1918–1929 12 65–30–11 .665 1
Bob Higgins 1930–1948 19 91–57–11 .607 1
Joe Bedenk 1949 1 5–4–0 .556
Rip Engle 1950–1965 16 104–48–4 .679 4
Joe Paterno 1966–2011 45 409–136–3 .749 95–54–0 .638 3 37 2
Tom Bradley 2011 <1 1–3 .250 1–2 .333 1
Bill O'Brien 2012–2013 2 15–9 .625 10–6 .625
James Franklin 2014– present 4th season 35–17 .673 21–13 .618 1 3


1887–present 129 877–387–42 .688 131–76–0 .633 5 47 2[85]

Bowl history[edit]

Penn State has earned invitations to 46 bowl games. The Nittany Lions have compiled a bowl record of 28–16–2 (.630), including a 14–6–1 (.690) record in the major bowls (Rose, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, and Cotton).

Coach Joe Paterno was responsible for most of these bids and victories, compiling more appearances (37) than any other coach in college football en route to his bowl record of 24–12–1 (.662). Paterno also has a record of 14–5–0 (.737) in "major" bowls and is the only coach to have won all five major college bowls during his career.

By year[edit]

No. Season Bowl Coach Opponent Result
1 1922 Rose Hugo Bezdek USC L, 3–14
2 1947 Cotton Bob Higgins SMU T, 13–13
3 1959 Liberty Rip Engle Alabama W, 7–0
4 1960 Liberty Rip Engle Oregon W, 14–12
5 1961 Gator Rip Engle Georgia Tech W, 30–15
6 1962 Gator Rip Engle Florida L, 7–17
7 1967 Gator Joe Paterno Florida State T, 17–17
8 1968 Orange Joe Paterno Kansas W, 15–14
9 1969 Orange Joe Paterno Missouri W, 10–3
10 1971 Cotton Joe Paterno Texas W, 30–6
11 1972 Sugar Joe Paterno Oklahoma L, 0–14
12 1973 Orange Joe Paterno LSU W, 16–9
13 1974 Cotton Joe Paterno Baylor W, 41–20
14 1975 Sugar Joe Paterno Alabama L, 6–13
15 1976 Gator Joe Paterno Notre Dame L, 9–20
16 1977 Fiesta Joe Paterno Arizona State W, 42–30
17 1978 Sugar Joe Paterno Alabama L, 7–14
18 1979 Liberty Joe Paterno Tulane W, 9–6
19 1980 Fiesta Joe Paterno Ohio State W, 31–19
20 1981 Fiesta Joe Paterno USC W, 26–10
21 1982 Sugar Joe Paterno Georgia W, 27–23
22 1983 Aloha Joe Paterno Washington W, 13–10
23 1985 Orange Joe Paterno Oklahoma L, 10–25
24 1986 Fiesta Joe Paterno Miami (FL) W, 14–10
25 1987 Citrus Joe Paterno Clemson L, 10–35
26 1989 Holiday Joe Paterno BYU W, 50–39
27 1990 Blockbuster Joe Paterno Florida State L, 17–24
28 1991 Fiesta Joe Paterno Tennessee W, 42–17
29 1992 Blockbuster Joe Paterno Stanford L, 3–24
30 1993 Citrus Joe Paterno Tennessee W, 31–13
31 1994 Rose Joe Paterno Oregon W, 38–20
32 1995 Outback Joe Paterno Auburn W, 43–14
33 1996 Fiesta Joe Paterno Texas W, 38–15
34 1997 Citrus Joe Paterno Florida L, 6–21
35 1998 Outback Joe Paterno Kentucky W, 26–14
36 1999 Alamo Joe Paterno Texas A&M W, 24–0
37 2002 Capital One Joe Paterno Auburn L, 9–13
38 2005 Orange Joe Paterno Florida State W, 26–23 3OT
39 2006 Outback Joe Paterno Tennessee W, 20–10
40 2007 Alamo Joe Paterno Texas A&M W, 24–17
41 2008 Rose Joe Paterno USC L, 24–38
42 2009 Capital One Joe Paterno LSU W, 19–17
43 2010 Outback Joe Paterno Florida L, 24–37
44 2011 TicketCity Tom Bradley Houston L, 14–30
45 2014 Pinstripe James Franklin Boston College W, 31–30 OT
46 2015 TaxSlayer James Franklin Georgia L, 17–24
47 2016 Rose James Franklin USC L, 49-52
48 2017 Fiesta James Franklin Washington

By game[edit]

Bowl # Appearances Record
Alamo Bowl 2 1999, 2008 2–0
Aloha Bowl 1 1983 1–0
Blockbuster Bowl 2 1990, 1993 0 -2
Citrus Bowl / Capital One Bowl 5 1988, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2010 2–3
Cotton Bowl Classic 3 1948, 1972, 1975 2–0–1
Fiesta Bowl 6 1977, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997 6–0
Gator Bowl / TaxSlayer Bowl 5 1961, 1962, 1967, 1976, 2015 1–3–1
Holiday Bowl 1 1989 1–0
Liberty Bowl 3 1959, 1960, 1979 3–0
Orange Bowl 5 1969, 1970, 1974, 1986, 2005 4–1
Outback Bowl 4 1996, 1999, 2007, 2011 3–1
Pinstripe Bowl 1 2014 1-0
TicketCity Bowl 1 2012 0–1
Rose Bowl 4 1923, 1994, 2009, 2017 1–3
Sugar Bowl 4 1972, 1976, 1979, 1983 1–3


Michigan State[edit]

Since 1993, Penn State has played Michigan State for the Land Grant Trophy. Michigan State currently holds possession of the trophy after winning the 2017 contest. Penn State has a 14–8 record in these trophy games. Michigan State leads the series 16-15-1. Beginning with the league's expansion and new division format in 2011, the two teams were in different divisions and did not play annually, however this series renewed in the 2014 season and continue yearly as they will both be in the Big Ten's Eastern Division.


The Nittany Lions taking the field against Minnesota in 2005.

Since 1993, Penn State has played Minnesota for the Governor's Victory Bell sporadically in their Big Ten schedule. Penn State leads the all-time series 9–5.

Due to the latest changes in the Big Ten's scheduling procedures, the series will be held approximately two times every seven years starting in 2014; this will change to three times every seven years when the Big Ten adds another conference game effective 2016. Penn State won the most recent meeting 29-26 in overtime on October 1, 2016 in State College. The next game is scheduled for November 9, 2019 in Minnesota.


The Penn State–Pittsburgh football rivalry is a long-standing series between in-state rivals Penn State and Pittsburgh. Once considered the fiercest and most important college football rivalry north of the Mason–Dixon line, this rivalry was first played in 1893 when Penn State won 32–0. The most recent game in the series was played in 2017 with Penn State winning over Pittsburgh 33-14 at Beaver Stadium. Penn State holds a 51–43–4 record in the series[86]

Of the 98 games played between the two, 73 have been held in Pittsburgh. Twenty-three have been played in State College. Two games, in 1900 and 1901, were played in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

The Pitt-Penn State game is scheduled to continue annually through 2019, with the 2017 and 2019 contests taking place at Beaver Stadium in State College and the 2018 contest taking place at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Penn State has not played more games against any other opponent, whereas Pitt has only played more against West Virginia University. The game scheduled for 2019 in State College will mark their 100th matchup.

Ohio State[edit]

The Penn State and Ohio State rivalry began before Penn State was a member of the Big Ten. The first four meetings in the series were stretched out over the course of 53 seasons between 1912 and 1964 which Penn State won all of. Then Ohio State won in 1975 in a game held in Columbus, Ohio and again in 1976 during the first ever match-up between the two teams in State College, Pennsylvania. Penn State and Ohio State would meet again in 1980 in their first and only postseason bowl, the 1980 Fiesta Bowl, which Penn State won. After the Fiesta Bowl, the two teams would not meet again until Penn State joined the Big Ten in 1993. Since then, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes have played each other annually. Ohio State leads the series, 18–14.

West Virginia[edit]

Penn State and West Virginia have played each other 59 times. The first game was in 1904 when Penn state won that game 34-0. This series has been dominated by the Nittany Lions while leading the series 48-9-2. The two teams announced on September 19, 2013 that a home and home series has been scheduled for 2023 and 2024.


The Penn State-Syracuse football rivalry started in 1922, when Syracuse fought Penn State to a 0–0 tie. But it was during the 1950s and 1960s that the rivalry intensified, as it enjoyed a competitive and often controversial string of contests. Syracuse football was led by Ben Schwartzwalder, and Penn State by Rip Engle, then Joe Paterno. From 1950 to 1970, Syracuse won 11 games to Penn State's 10. Penn State leads the series 43–23–5.

After Schwartzwalder retired in 1973, Syracuse floundered. Penn State won 16 straight from 1971 to 1986. Conference realignment and scheduling disagreements also dampened the intensity of the rivalry. Penn State fans and players increasingly turned their attention to the rivalry with Pittsburgh.

In 1987, Coach Dick MacPherson finally led Syracuse to a resounding 48–21 victory over the Nittany Lions in the Dome. Syracuse won again the following year in Happy Valley but lost the last two games before the series was suspended in 1991. The rivalry has since been renewed three times since the series suspension - in 2008, 2009, and 2013. The Nittany Lions won all three of these contests.


Lesser known is the Alabama-Penn state football rivalry Though the Crimson Tide are not as much of a traditional opponent for the Nittany Lions as much as many of the teams listed above, the two teams are still often considered among the best in the country, claim a combined 18 national titles, and have met in a bowl game three times. The series began on December 19, 1959 in that year's edition of the Liberty Bowl, a 7-0 win for #12 Penn State. Sixteen years later, the Nittany Lions and Crimson Tide met in the 1975 Sugar Bowl, resulting in a 13-6 Tide victory in New Orleans. Perhaps the most notable game between these two teams came four years later, in a 1979 Sugar Bowl rematch, resulting in another Alabama victory. The rivalry was intensified during the 1980s, when the Lions and Tide met in 10 consecutive seasons, all during regular season play. After this time, the rivalry went dormant for two decades before being renewed for a 2-game home-and-home series in 2010 and 2011. In all, Alabama leads the series, 10–5.


Penn State and Maryland met in briefly interrupted stretches between 1917 and 1993, with a near-consecutive run played all but three years (1976, 1981, and 1983) between 1960 and 1993. However, the one-sided record belies what was often a competitive match-up until its final years. While Maryland only compiled one win and one tie, numerous games were narrowly lost by missed field goals and turnovers. In 1975, a field goal attempt by kicker Mike Sochko hit the upright with under a minute left, and Maryland lost 15–13. Ten years later, the Terps missed three field goals to eventually lose 20–18. After the Nittany Lions' move to the Big Ten Conference in 1993, the series was cancelled. However, Maryland ended up joining the Big Ten as well, in 2014, reinstating the rivalry after more than 2 decades of being dormant. They are scheduled to play annually as part of the conference schedule. Aside from the painful memories for Maryland, both schools compete aggressively for recruits in the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area and Delaware Valley.

Individual award winners[edit]

Retired numbers[edit]

Penn State Nittany Lions retired numbers
No. Player Position Career Date of Retirement
22 John Cappelletti RB 1972–73 September 7, 2013



Other awards[edit]

Current NFL players[edit]

As of April 29, 2017:[101]

Player Team Position
Adrian Amos Chicago Bears Cornerback
Tarow Barney New York Jets Defensive tackle
Deion Barnes Linebacker
Brad Bars Defensive end
NaVorro Bowman Oakland Raiders Linebacker
Glenn Carson Linebacker
Kyle Carter Minnesota Vikings Tight end
Jack Crawford Atlanta Falcons Defensive end
Sam Ficken Placekicker
Garry Gilliam Seattle Seahawks Offensive tackle
Chris Godwin Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wide receiver
Robbie Gould San Francisco 49ers Placekicker
Christian Hackenberg New York Jets Quarterback
Tamba Hali Kansas City Chiefs Linebacker
Chris Hogan New England Patriots Wide receiver
Jordan Hill Detroit Lions Defensive tackle
Mike Hull Miami Dolphins Linebacker
Gerald Hodges New Orleans Saints Linebacker
Jesse James Pittsburgh Steelers Tight end
Austin Johnson Tennessee Titans Defensive tackle
DaQuan Jones Tennessee Titans Defensive end
Sean Lee Dallas Cowboys Linebacker
Jordan Lucas Miami Dolphins Safety
Michael Mauti New Orleans Saints Linebacker
Matt McGloin Quarterback
Derek Moye Wide receiver
Carl Nassib Cleveland Browns Defensive end
Jared Odrick Defensive end
Rich Ohrnberger Guard
Paul Posluszny Jacksonville Jaguars Linebacker
Andrew Quarless Tight end
Allen Robinson Jacksonville Jaguars Wide receiver
Travis Ross Kansas City Chiefs Tight end
Evan Royster Running back
A.Q. Shipley Arizona Cardinals Center
Mickey Shuler, Jr. Tight end
Donovan Smith Tampa Bay Buccaneers Offensive tackle
Devon Still Defensive tackle
Nathan Stupar New Orleans Saints Linebacker
Andrew Szczerba Tight end
Johnnie Troutman Guard
Cameron Wake Miami Dolphins Defensive end
Trevor Williams Los Angeles Chargers Cornerback
Stefen Wisniewski Philadelphia Eagles Guard
Anthony Zettel Detroit Lions Defensive tackle

College Football Hall of Fame inductees[edit]

Including former head coach Joe Paterno, 22 Nittany Lion players and coaches have been selected for the College Football Hall of Fame.[102]

Name Position Year inducted
Hugo Bezdek Coach 1954
John Cappelletti Halfback 1993
Shane Conlan Linebacker 2014
Keith Dorney Offensive tackle 2005
Rip Engle Coach 1973
Jack Ham Linebacker 1990
Dick Harlow Coach 1954
Bob Higgins Coach 1954
Glenn Killinger Quarterback 1971
Ted Kwalick Tight end 1989
Richie Lucas Quarterback 1986
Pete Mauthe Fullback 1957
Shorty Miller Quarterback 1974
Lydell Mitchell Running back 2004
Dennis Onkotz Linebacker 1995
Joe Paterno Coach 2007
Mike Reid Defensive tackle 1987
Glenn Ressler Center/guard 2001
Dave Robinson End 1997
Steve Suhey Guard 1985
Dexter Very End 1976
Curt Warner Halfback 2009
Harry Wilson Halfback 1973

Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees[edit]

Penn State is one of 11 schools with five or more inductees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.[103]

Name Position NFL team(s) Year inducted
Jack Ham Linebacker Pittsburgh Steelers 1988
Franco Harris Running back Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks 1990
Mike Michalske Guard Green Bay Packers 1964
Lenny Moore Flanker/running back Baltimore Colts 1975
Mike Munchak Guard Houston Oilers 2001
Dave Robinson Linebacker Green Bay Packers 2013

Future non-conference opponents[edit]

Announced schedules as of September 4, 2017[104]

2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
vs Akron vs Appalachian State vs Idaho at Virginia Tech vs Ball State at Auburn vs West Virginia at West Virginia vs Virginia Tech
vs Pittsburgh at Pittsburgh vs Buffalo vs Auburn
vs Georgia State vs Kent State vs Pittsburgh

Charity and awareness efforts[edit]

The Penn State football team has worked in coordination with Uplifting Athletes, a non-profit organization, to raise awareness and funds for the Kidney Cancer Association. In 2003 the team turned their annual weight-lifting competition into a fund-raiser when a player's father was diagnosed with Kidney Cancer. The event that is now known as Lift for Life, has raised more than $225,000 since its inception.[when?][105][non-primary source needed]

See Also[edit]

List of Penn State Nittany Lions Head Football Coaches


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External links[edit]