Fifth-year seniors played a key role in Penn State's surprising 8-4 season last year. But we could soon be seeing a whole lot fewer such veterans on the Nittany Lions, thanks to NCAA sanctions.
An interesting piece by StateCollege.com's Mike Poorman examines whether fifth-year seniors will turn out to be a casualty of the sanctions. Penn State will be limited to 65 total scholarship players beginning in 2014 and expiring after the 2017 season. That means that head coach Bill O'Brien will almost certainly be forced to play more freshmen right away rather than have the luxury of sitting them for a year.
As Poorman points out, 16 of last year's 31 seniors were fifth-year players. That includes such standouts as Michael Mauti, Matthew McGloin, Matt Stankiewitch and Michael Zordich. The team will have 10 fifth-year seniors in 2013 and could have as few as seven by 2014, Poorman notes. O'Brien did redshirt 11 freshmen in 2012 but might not be able to do that as much in the next few years, as he mentioned when asked Monday about incoming freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
"You bring these guys in, they are on full scholarship,” O’Brien said. “Unless they are injured, you’re going to put them in the mix and let them compete -- and you’re going to play the best players."
True freshmen are playing -- and making an impact -- more than ever in college football these days, especially at the skill positions. Coaches still love to redshirt linemen, especially on the offensive side. Whether O'Brien can afford to have some guys sit, learn and put on pounds for a year while maintaining competitive depth with only 65 scholarship players remains to be seen. But it appears unlikely that Penn State will have as many fifth-year graybeards as it did in 2012 during the near future.