Penn State has lost eight players since the NCAA handed out sanctions. Wide receiver Justin Brown, a target of receiver-depleted Oklahoma, could be the ninth. This is hardly the speculated exodus, though determining how Bill O’Brien is faring depends on one’s success metric.
The Nittany Lions have sustained a blow for immediate success. Silas Redd was Penn State’s entire offense last season. Justin Brown would rob Penn State of its best and most prolific receiver from last year. Khairi Fortt had not quite lived up to his recruiting hype, though he robs them of a probable linebacker starter in 2012 and an experienced hand in 2013 when Hodges and Mauti leave. Losing Anthony Fera is really losing multiple players, as Penn State used him for field goals, punts and kickoffs. Losing those players is not helpful. Frankly, this wasn’t expected to be a very good team with those players.
O’Brien is doing well for the moment, however, at hanging on to recruits/freshmen/sophomores to keep numbers up during Penn State’s lean years. Just three of the players fell into that category. Redshirt freshman safety Tim Buckley is heading to N.C. State, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki will go to Illinois. Incoming freshman defensive tackle Jamil Pollard will enroll at Rutgers. He has lost a couple highly-ranked recruits for 2013, though the core has stayed intact.
The danger though is what happens when football begins and the “We Are” mentality wears off. It is tough for a player to transfer now. He must upend his life in a matter of days. There is tremendous peer and community pressure. It is easier to make a reasoned, well thought out decision after the 2012 season. If next season is poor, reality may set in for players and recruits who chose to stick with Penn State.
Because of the sanctions, O’Brien must perpetually recruit his own players, who can transfer with impunity the rest of their careers. Guys who become disenchanted with the coaching staff or unhappy with their place on the depth chart can just leave. When a Penn State player has a breakout season, O’Brien will have to fend off (insert national title contender here) with a scholarship available. Attrition may not be enough to derail the program entirely, but transfers and the perpetual threat of transfers could undermine and destabilize it.
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