As everyone across the college football world continues to discuss the fallout of the NCAA’s sanctions at Penn State, there are few who doubt one thing: Of all the crippling sanctions the school was hit with, none is more devastating than the rule that allows every player on Penn State’s roster to transfer immediately and play right away. It is a sanction unlike any that we’ve seen since SMU in 1987, at least as far as this writer is personally aware of.
That’s right, for anyone trying to compare the sanctions at Penn State to the ones USC and who are saying “Well, the Trojans ended up alright,” think again. The biggest difference with what happened in Los Angeles and what was announced yesterday in State College is that at USC only juniors and seniors were allowed to transfer and receive immediate eligibility. As for those freshmen and sophomores who were forced to stick around? Well, they’re now the core of a team that will likely be No. 1 in the country this year. At Penn State, everyone from fifth year seniors to incoming freshmen are allowed to leave, without any repercussion whatsoever.
And with that, Penn State football is about to become a meat market unlike any we’ve seen in modern college football history. Within the next few days expect assistant coaches from across the country to descend on State College, and for players that are currently part of the Penn State program to start taking official visits to programs all across the country.
So with that in mind comes the simple question of who are the players at Penn State that other schools will desire the most? Who are the Nittany Lions top “free agents,” if you will?
Now before we get to the list, we will make one quick editorial note, and that’s this: Right now, no one knows what players are actually interested in transferring and who plans on staying. So please understand that this list is in no way indicative of who we THINK will leave Penn State, just on who would be the most desirable IF they did decide to look around.
Got that? Good.
Now let’s get to the list.
10. TE Adam Breneman; QB Christian Hackenberg:
Ok, so this is a bit of a cop-out here, since neither Breneman nor Hackenberg is currently a Penn State football player. However, they are two of the top recruits in the country in the class of 2013, and were bedrock commits to Bill O’Brien’s first full class in Happy Valley. And with another seven or so months until Signing Day, they and the rest of the 2013 Penn State recruiting class are just as much free agents as anyone currently on the Nittany Lions’ roster.
The player that schools will most covet is Breneman, widely considered be the top tight end in high school football this year. The 6’4, 229 lb. senior from Camp Hill, PA is currently recovering from an ACL tear, but when healthy, my goodness can the kid play. He finished his junior season with 72 catches, a big reason why everyone from Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame all offered Breneman a scholarship before he committed to the Nittany Lions in March of this year.
As for Hackenberg, the buzz wasn’t quite as intense, but as Rivals.com’s No. 7 ranked pro-style quarterback recruit, he will be equally coveted none the less. Prior to being Penn State’s first commit in the class of 2013, the 6’4 Hackenberg had offers from virtually everyone in college football, including Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee, and while some of those offers might not still be on the table (Alabama, for example has since received two quarterback commitments), you’ve got to believe there are a lot of programs that’ll still have a place for Hackenberg if he’s interested.
Now, to the credit of Breneman he has already publicly stated he will stick by his Penn State commitment, and many insiders believe Hackenberg will do the same. Of course with so much time between now and Signing Day, a lot of things could happen to change their minds.
They will be two of the more interesting prospects to keep an eye on going forward.
9. K/P Anthony Fera:
Traditionally you might not think of having a kicker/punter on this list, but when if there was ever an exception to the rule, it very well might be Fera. The junior to be has the size to play outside linebacker at a lot of schools (6’2, 220 lbs.) and the leg to one day play in the NFL, and finished last year 14 of 17 on field goal attempts and also averaged 42 yards per punt (and if you watched Penn State’s offense last year, you know they punted quite a bit). In the process, he earned All-Big Ten honorable mention in 2011 as well.
In addition, Fera has one advantage that virtually no other player at Penn State does: Because of his position, he doesn’t have to worry about fitting into the right “scheme” just finding the best place to play. If he chooses to leave the school, he’ll have any number of suitors.
8. WR Eugene Lewis:
Of everyone currently on Penn State’s roster, the group you’ve got to feel most bad for are the true freshmen just now enrolling at school. While all the upperclassmen have at the very least gotten to experience bowl games, every single 2012 signee was faced with a sad reality Monday: Unless they redshirt, they will start and finish their careers without ever playing a postseason game.
And because of it, it’s got to give a lot of them real trepidation about staying at Penn State.
Amongst them, the one that’ll likely have the highest number of interested suitors appears to be wide receiver Eugene Lewis. The four-star pass-catcher out of Plymouth, PA, Lewis had offers from just about everyone in the country as a high school senior last year, including schools from as far as away as Oregon and South Carolina, to virtually everyone in the Big Ten. And at 6’2 with the ability to run a 4.5 40 it’s easy to see why.
It’ll be very interesting to see what all the current freshmen on Penn State’s roster do. None more so than Lewis.
7. WR Justin Brown:
Like Lewis, Brown has the size (6’3, 209 lbs.) to play receiver at pretty much any school in the country, and coming off a 35 catch season in 2011, should have plenty of offers to play right away. Not to mention that given Penn State’s shaky quarterback play in 2011, Brown could be significantly better than any of us realize.
Because he’s a senior, it’s impossible to know where Brown’s heart lies. But if he does decide to leave, he’ll have no shortage of suitors.
6. LB Khairi Fortt:
While Fortt has been seen as somewhat of a disappoint since committing to Penn State as a four-star recruit in the class of 2010, there is still no doubt that the talent is there with him. Even as a back-up last year, the 6’2, 264 Fortt finished 13th on the team in tackles with 33.
And if you don’t think schools are interested in Fortt, well, think again. According to UConn beat writer Desmond Connor, the junior-to-be has already had over 30 schools reach out to him.
5. OT Donovan Smith:
Ask any major college football coach, and the simple truth is that you can’t have enough offensive linemen. In the trenches, guys get hurt, they just don’t pan out or never reach their full potential.
So how many schools do you think are drooling at the opportunity to take Donovan Smith off Penn State’s hands? Even as a redshirt freshman, Donovan was projected to be a starter at right tackle for the Nittany Lions this year, and at 6’5, 310 lbs. it’s easy to see why. As the old saying goes, “You can’t teach size.” And you especially can’t teach the size along with the athleticism that Smith brings.
The best part? As a redshirt freshman who has yet to play a college down, Smith is the best of both worlds for any college trying to pursue him. On the one hand, he’s a guy who has been practicing against college players for a year now. At the same time, he still has four full seasons of eligibility left as well.
Simply put, Donovan will be a steal for any program lucky enough to have him in 2012. Whether that’s Penn State, or a yet to be determined school.
4. CB/S Adrian Amos:
Amos didn’t come into Penn State as a top-rated recruit, but in just one season on campus has proved to be a difference-maker in the secondary as well on special teams. The true sophomore finished 2011 as part of Penn State’s cornerback rotation, as well as a key kickoff return man, who averaged 20 yards per return last season.
Despite an expected to move to safety this year, expect Amos to have many suitors if he decides to leave school.
3. DE Jordan Hill:
A bedrock of Penn State’s defensive line since arriving on campus, Hill is coming off an honorable mention All-Big Ten performance last year. Hill finished with 59 total tackles (sixth on the team) as well as 3.5 sacks during the 2011 season.
Like some of the other players on this list, Hill is a senior, so it’s impossible to know where his interests lie. But if he does decide to leave, expect him to be amongst the most highly coveted Penn State players on the board.
2. LB Gerald Hodges/LB Mike Mauti
Given that both are seniors, and both have been through the ups and downs of the last couple years at Penn State, it’s hard to see either leaving Happy Valley (Not to mention that Mauti also had a brother and father who played at Penn State as well, meaning it’s almost guaranteed he stays). However, if either or both want to transfer, you’ve got to imagine the two starting linebackers will be able to go to pretty much any school in the country.
The guy who will be especially coveted is Hodges who was a stud for Penn State last year, finishing with 106 total tackles and 13 tackles for loss last year. The First Team All-Big Ten honoree plays sideline to sideline, every single down and would be an absolute asset for anyone interested in him.
Like Mauti though, the question isn’t whether who’ll be interested in him, but instead, will either of them be interested in finishing their careers anywhere other than Happy Valley?
1. RB Silas Redd:
If you watched Penn State at all in 2011, than you know that the No. 1 pick here was a total no-brainer. Simply put, Silas Redd will be the most coveted player on Penn State’s roster, and probably the hardest for Bill O’Brien to keep. He is the single greatest asset- on either side of the ball- the Nittany Lions currently have.
First off, there are the stats, and the 5’10, 200 lb. junior had plenty of those last year, finishing with 1,241 yards in 2011, third in the Big Ten behind only Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead. In the process, he earned Second Team All-Big Ten honors.
And if you think the hunt for Redd hasn’t already begun, well, think again. Early reports out of Happy Valley Monday night had USC already in contact with Redd about coming to the West Coast to try and help the Trojans win a title.
Granted, Redd-to-‘SC is just a rumor, but it’s the first of many we’ll hear in the next few weeks.
It is officially free agent season at Penn State.
For all his opinion, analysis and articles on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.