The year was 2015, the season when Corey Clement was expected to take over as the next featured running back at Wisconsin, a list of distinguished players that included Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, and former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne.
Clement's potentially magical season, however, became a dud. The former Glassboro High School star played in three games before suffering a sports hernia that needed surgery. When he came back in November, he was left off the travel squad for a game at Minnesota after being issued two citations for disorderly conduct in connection with a fight at his apartment.
A jump to the NFL, which he was considering at the start of the year, was not going to happen, especially after playing in four games and rushing for just 221 yards. So Clement came back for his final season with the Badgers refocused and reenergized, and that has shown in the statistics.
The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Clement has rushed for 1,140 yards and is second in the Big Ten in average yards at 103.6 per game. He will lead Wisconsin's ball-control offense into Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday night against Penn State in the Big Ten championship game, and looks forward to what he called "a great opportunity."
"I knew there was unfinished business to come back here and really finish out a good season with the senior class that I came in with," Clement said this week. "So I made the decision to come back based on just talking to coach [Paul] Chryst. I really thought about the team first.
"Putting everything else aside, whatever the future holds is going to pan out for itself. So I came back for another opportunity to reinstate what the Badgers were, including myself. The 2015 season wasn't a good season for me, so I didn't want to leave on a bad note."
Clement, who missed one game early in the season because of an ankle injury, has gotten stronger as the season has progressed. He has gained 100 yards on the ground in six of his last seven games, including a career best-tying mark of 164 in an overtime loss to Ohio State. For his career, Wisconsin is 14-1 when he rushes for 100 or more yards.
"He's a really good back," Penn State linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "He runs with great balance, really good vision and makes some good cuts. He has the type of speed that leads to breakaway runs - 50-, 60-, 70-yard runs. It's going to be a good challenge ahead for us. He'll be one of the best backs we see this year."
Clement first made headlines as a sophomore in 2014 when he rushed for 949 yards as Gordon's backup and combined with Gordon to set a single-season FBS record of 3,536 rushing yards by teammates.
Clement said Penn State did not recruit him very hard out of Glassboro High, where he finished his career with 6,245 yards and 90 total touchdowns. He said Wisconsin gave a strong recruiting presentation and he was sold after he traveled to Madison for a visit.
He called Penn State "a great program to be a part of, and I have nothing bad to say about those guys." His former Glassboro teammate, Juwan Johnson, is a wide receiver for the Nittany Lions.
Clement said that one of his uncles graduated from Penn State and that the uncle has reached out to him.
"He sent me a message this week, 'You're going up against my alma mater,' " he said. "So it'll be another great opportunity to try to keep the family name going, either at Penn State or here at Wisconsin. It's another good matchup. I'm just waiting for another opportunity to showcase what we're really about."