Monday, October 1, 2012

The scholarship game for Penn State football: Making it work, sooner

(Ed. note: This story updated 11-4-12 to account for Fr. LB Gary Wooten, who previously mistakenly was thought to be a walk-on) 

USC and others have done reasonably well when saddled by NCAA scholarship restrictions, and Penn State can too despite much harsher sanctions. But the Lions need to get started on one aspect of the restrictions sooner.

Penn State's football deck will be missing cards soon.

PSU will be capped at 15 new scholarships a year (down from 25) from 2013-16.

The Lions will be limited to 65 scholarships total (down from 85) from 2014-2017. 

Note the extra year PSU is allowed to cut down to 65 scholarships. It seems like a "fair" gesture on the part of the gracious (cough, cough) NCAA, to allow PSU until the 2014 season to get down to the 65 cap.

However, it actually just delays PSU's recovery and is making things worse.

Because, due largely to the NCAA's wide-open transfer rules for PSU players, the Lions will have no trouble getting to 65 for next season, 2013.

If Penn State should petition any aspect of the sanctions - petitioning their general absurdity due to no NCAA investigation, the massive flaws in the Freeh Report and PSU's spotless history is fruitless - it should be this: Move up the timetable for the 65 limit to 2013-16.

Get it over with sooner, because PSU doesn't need the extra year.

Also, it makes no sense on the back end to allow PSU to begin signing 25 players again in 2016, but still require the Lions to stay below 65 scholarships in 2016. Think about it: PSU could have no more than 40 returning scholarship players in 2016 in order to sign 25 and still stay below 65.

That's incompatible.

The bright side of the PSU roster attrition the past couple of months is it has helped head coach Bill O'Brien get rid of scholarship players.

Recent transfers such as Ryan Nowicki, Kevin Haplea and Rob Bolden might all be good teammates (or maybe not, who knows). But they would have had extremely minimal impact on the field. They were eating up scholarships PSU holds dear in the sanction era.

The Lions now have just 56 scholarship players who have remaining eligibility in 2013.

Take those 56, add the max 15 signees PSU can ink this February, and in theory that puts the Lions at 71 heading into next spring.

PSU would be six players over the 65 cutoff.

But getting down to 65 actually might be easier than keeping the scholarship roster from dropping below 65  in 2013.

After this season, the ridiculous, restriction-less transfer rules kick in again. (For the last time, thankfully - once fall practice starts in 2013, PSU will return to normal status re: transfers.)

So, the Lions probably can expect a few more players to transfer before next season.

Or to simply leave the football team and stay on scholarship at PSU, as the NCAA sanctions are allowing PSU players to do, and as at least two have (Dakota Royer and Luke Graham).

Or to graduate and forego their final year of eligibility, as players such as Andrew Dailey and Brandon Beachum have done recently.

Or to get kicked off the squad due to some sort of transgression. Or academic woes.

Regardless, the math is clear: PSU will have a harder time keeping 65 scholarship players next season than getting down to 65.

The Lions should appeal the NCAA to start the 65 scholarship limit in 2013, not 2014.

Then, in 2017, when PSU can begin signing 25 players again, the Lions could be back up to 75-plus scholarship players by that fall, instead of unnecessarily being limited to 65 for one more year.

O'Brien and his staff are proving this season, despite all that has transpired to harm the program, that they can successfully guide PSU through these debilitating sanctions. 

The rewards on the back end of the sanctions will happen more quickly if the 65 scholarship limit starts next season.

Playing the long-term roster-analysis game usually is for hard-core fans only.

But it takes on added intrigue for all Nittany Lions supporters now that PSU has had the screws put to it by the NCAA: The Lions will be in perpetual danger of being critically low of players at a given position at any time due to normal attrition the next few seasons.

That's O'Brien's reality moving forward. Below are the names and numbers O'Brien and staff are working with for next year. (Of course, this could change by the day, but here's where things stand now)

PSU 2013 scholarship players returning (56)

name                         pos           2013 yr in school/2013 yr in football  
  1. Anthony Alosi            OL   Jr/So
  2. Adrian Amos              CB    Jr/Jr    
  3. Mark Arcidiacono     OL    Gr/Sr
  4. Deion Barnes             DL    Jr/So
  5. Brad Bars                   DE    Sr/Jr
  6. Kyle Baublitz             DT    Sr/Jr
  7. Bill Belton                  RB    Jr/Jr
  8. Steven Bench             QB    So/So
  9. Nate Cadogan            OL     Gr/Sr
  10. Glenn Carson            LB     Sr/Sr
  11. Kyle Carter                TE     Jr/So
  12. Da’Quan Davis          DB     So/So
  13. Miles Dieffenbach    OL     Sr/Jr
  14. Derek Dowrey          DL     So/Fr
  15. Curtis Dukes             RB     Gr/Sr
  16. Sam Ficken                K       Jr/Jr
  17. Frank Figueroa         OL     Gr/Sr
  18. Brennan Franklin     LB     So/Fr
  19. Brian Gaia                  DL     So/Fr
  20. Garry Gilliam            TE     Gr/Sr
  21. Malik Golden            WR    So/Fr
  22. Adam Gress               OL     Gr/Sr
  23. Ty Howle                   OL     Gr/Sr
  24. Mike Hull                  LB     Sr/Jr
  25. Jesse James               TE     So/So
  26. Austin Johnson         DL     So/Fr
  27. DaQuan Jones          DL     Sr/Sr
  28. Alex Kenney             WR     Jr/So
  29. Jordan Kerner         DE      Jr/So
  30. Jake Kiley                 CB      So/Fr
  31. Ben Kline                  LB      Jr/So
  32. Christian Kuntz       WR    Gr/Sr
  33. Wendy Laurent        C        So/Fr
  34. Eugene Lewis           WR    So/Fr
  35. Jordan Lucas            DB     So/Fr
  36. Akeel Lynch              RB     So/Fr
  37. Angelo Mangiro       OL     Jr/So   
  38. Brandon Moseby-Felder  WR  Gr/Sr
  39. Stephen Obeng-Agyapong  S  Gr/Sr
  40. C.J. Olaniyan            DE      Sr/Jr
  41. Allen Robinson        WR    Jr/Jr
  42. Evan Schwan            DE     So/Fr
  43. Eric Shrive                OL     Gr/Sr
  44. Donovan Smith        OL      Jr/So
  45. Anthony Stanko       OL      So/Fr
  46. John Urschel             G       Gr/Sr
  47. Mike Wallace           CB      Gr/Sr
  48. Jonathan Warner    WR     So/Fr  
  49. Nyeem Wartman     LB       So/So-Fr
  50. Brent Wilkerson      TE       So/Fr
  51. Trevor Williams      WR     So/So
  52. Malcolm Willis         S        Gr/Sr
  53. Gary Wooten           LB       So/Fr
  54. Matt Zanellato         WR     Jr/So
  55. Anthony Zettel         DE      Jr/So
  56. Zach Zwinak             RB       Sr/Jr

key walk-ons
Alex Butterworth        P        Sr/Sr
Jesse Della Valle        CB       Sr/Jr
Emery Etter                KS       Gr/Sr
Michael Fuhrman      KS       Gr/Sr
Ryan Keiser                 S         Sr/Jr
Matt Lehman              TE       Gr/Sr
Garrett Venuto           QB      Gr/Sr


2013 PSU roster by position
  • scholarship returnees are in bold
  • key walk-ons listed with an *asterisk
  • (parentheses around anticipated 2013 true freshmen, to date PSU has 11 commitments)

QB (1 scholarship returnee in 2013)

*G. Venuto (Gr/Sr), S. Bench (So/So), (C. Hackenberg)
  • The skinny: Need more bodies. Hard to justify using two of 15 scholarships for 2013 on QBs, but might need to if quality preferred walk-ons can't be secured or without a viable position switch to QB.

TB (4)

C. Dukes (Gr/Sr), Z. Zwinak (Sr/Jr), B. Belton (Jr/Jr), A. Lynch (So/Fr) 
  • The skinny: Looking good. With limited need in O'Brien's offense for a FB-only player, expect TEs to line up at FB, as Kyle Carter has been doing, or walk-ons for short-yardage blocking. PSU could add a TB for 2013 recruiting class.

WR (9)

C. Kuntz (Gr/Sr), B. Moseby-Felder (Gr/Sr), A. Kenney (Sr/Jr), A. Robinson (Jr/Jr), M. Zanellato (Jr/So), T. Williams, (So/So), E. Lewis (So/Fr), M. Golden (So/Fr), J. Warner (So/Fr)
  • The skinny: Looking good here also, nice balance of youth and experience. With Lewis, Golden and Warner likely redshirting, not a big need for 2013 recruiting class.

TE (4, plus Lehman)
  • G. Gilliam (Gr/Sr), *M. Lehman (Gr/Sr), K. Carter (Jr/So), J. James (So/So), B. Wilkerson (So/Fr), (A. Breneman)
  • The skinny: With there really being two TE positions in the offense, another TE besides Breneman might come on board in 2013, and preferred walk-ons are likely here too with Lehman as their role model.

OL (13)
  • J. Urschel (Gr/Sr), N. Cadogan (Gr/Sr), M. Arcidiacono (Gr/Sr), T. Howle (Gr/Sr), E. Shrive (Gr/Sr), A. Gress (Gr/Sr), F. Figueroa (Gr/Sr), M. Dieffenbach (Sr/Jr), D. Smith (Jr/So), A. Mangiro (Jr/So), A. Alosi (Jr/So), A. Stanko (So/Fr), W. Laurent (So/Fr), (B.Mahon), (A. Nelson)
  • The skinny: As many as seven OLs will be 5th-year seniors in 2013, so PSU must reload as much as is possible with the scholarship restrictions. 

DT (5)

  • D. Jones (Sr/Sr), K. Baublitz (Sr/Jr), A. Johnson (So/Fr), D. Dowrey (So/Fr), B. Gaia (So/Fr)
  • The skinny: Area of concern, no question. Johnson, Dowrey and Gaia will need to be ready for key backup roles in 2013, and to start by 2014. Likely to add a 2013 recruit, and possibly move an OL here for 2013, perhaps Alosi, Cadogan or Figueroa.

DE (6)
  • B. Bars (Sr/Jr), C.J. Olaniyan (Sr/Jr), D. Barnes (Jr/So), A. Zettel (Jr/So), J. Kerner (Jr/So), E. Schwan (So/Fr), (G. Sickels, C. Cothran, T. Hartman)
  • The skinny: Looks like a position of strength the next few years, though most of the DEs could add 10-15 pounds. Recruit Hartman possibly could be a DT or OL.

LB (6)
  • G. Carson (Sr/Sr), M. Hull (Sr/Jr), B. Kline (Jr/So), N. Wartman (So/So or Fr), G. Wooten (So/Fr), B. Franklin (So/Fr), (B. Bell)
  • The skinny: With Mike Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Mike Yancich and injured Jamie Van Fleet departing after this season, the Lions might need a couple more bodies here. Wartman may end up redshirting this year. Franklin and Wooten were very late adds to the 2012 recruiting class.

CB (4, plus Della Valle)
  • M. Wallace (Gr/Sr), *J. Della Valle (Sr/Jr), A. Amos (Jr/Jr), D. Davis (So/So), J. Kiley (So/Fr), (J. Smith)
  • The skinny: Quality depth needed. Can Wallace help in his final season of eligibility? Is Kiley capable long-term?

S (3, plus Keiser)
  • M. Willis (Gr/Sr), S. Obeng-Agyapong (Gr/Sr), *R. Keiser (Sr/Jr), J. Lucas (So/Fr), (N. Robinson), (K. Gaines) 
  • The skinny: Big need here for more bodies as Willis and SO-A will be gone after 2013. CB Amos also plays safety, and Lucas has also been playing CB. Recruit Gaines plays S but has CB size.

Specialists (1)
  • S. Ficken (K - Jr/Jr), *A. Butterworth (P - Sr/Sr), *E. Etter (KS - Gr/Sr), *M. Fuhrman (KS - Gr/Sr)
  • The skinny: PSU doesn't want to burn a scholarship here for the 2013 class but might have to, as upgrades are needed, especially at punter. Expect PSU to work hard to lure preferred walk-on kickers and punters. Howle also handles some long snapping.


  1. Thanks for the very thorough review! Do you have an opinion on how the redshirt year plays into Penn State's decision-making? For instance, to get the most out of the fewer, i.e., 65 players, will there be a tendency to play more freshmen early in the 4 year sanctions period, and towards the end begin to be more likely to redshirt a true freshman?

  2. Very good question. My best guess/suspicion is the opposite of what you suggest above, and that O'Brien and staff will try to redshirt as many true freshmen as possible the next few seasons for two reasons:

    1. Each year a player redshirts is an extra year he could conceivably play in a bowl game. For example this year's freshmen would be 5th-year seniors when Penn State becomes bowl-eligible again in 2016. So they could have one year of bowl-eligibility in their careers. Freshmen who redshirt next fall could have two years of bowl eligibility (2016-17), and so on. So, for the player, there's an added bonus to being redshirted. (Taking it a step further, hypothetically, freshman WR Trevor Williams could play this fall and redshirt next fall (since the entire WR corps could return), while freshman WR Eugene Lewis could redshirt this fall and play next fall. That way Williams and Lewis both could be catching passes from Christian Hackenberg in 2016 and leading PSU to a bowl win ... but I digress)

    2. At least for this year, the advantage of redshirting the freshmen - possibly, in some instances - psychologically reduces one of the supposed NCAA-created benefits of transferring after this season. Until the start of the 2013 season, PSU players can transfer without sitting out a season. Well, if a PSU player just finished a redshirt season, he still would have four years of eligibility at PSU. Basically, his whole career is still ahead of him. Whereas if he knocked off a year of eligibility this fall, while playing sparingly, he might feel like he gave PSU a chance, but wasn't playing much, burned a year of eligibility, and might want to go someplace where he might play more for his final three years (and have a chance at a bowl).