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July 24, 2012

Coaches prepare to recruit Penn State roster

MORE: Sanctions | Douglas out | BlueWhiteIllustrated

Penn State's players won't be returning to their senior proms or taking the SAT and ACT again, but they're going to get a chance to relive at least one crucial part of their high school experience.

The sanctions handed down Monday against the university allow each of them the opportunity to go through the recruiting process all over again. Only this time, they won't have nearly as much time to make up their minds.

Penn State's returning players and incoming freshmen will be allowed to transfer to any school without sitting out a year of competition. They might even be allowed to pick a school that already has 85 scholarship players, the maximum allowed under NCAA guidelines.

The NCAA is considering waiving scholarship limits to allow schools to make room for former Penn State players, as long as they make a proportional adjustment the following year. For instance, if a school adds a Penn State transfer to go up to 86 scholarship players this year, it would have to go down to 84 scholarships the following year.

That essentially makes every Penn State player a free agent. While no Penn State players have indicated they would take this option just yet, some of them could garner plenty of interest from other FBS programs.

What team in need of running backs wouldn't like to add Silas Redd, a 1,241-yard rusher last year? And just about any defense in the country could make room for linebackers Gerald Hodges or Michael Mauti.

"I think if you have available scholarships and you have a need - and they have someone who fits that need - you'd be crazy not to [recruit Penn State players]," said North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien, no relation to Penn State coach Bill O'Brien.

Tom O'Brien wondered how many upperclassmen would leave the school where they'd spent their entire careers, but he thought the four-year bowl ban and scholarship limits could entice many of Penn State's younger players to look elsewhere.

Some of Penn State's players already have indicated they plan to stick around.

Senior quarterback Matt McGloin tweeted Tuesday that he planned to remain a Nittany Lion. Senior linebacker Mauti led a group of about two dozen players who issued a statement Wednesday morning indicating they remained committed to Penn State.

O'Brien should understand the situation. One of his former players went through a similar experience last summer.

Former all-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson left N.C. State under the NCAA's graduate transfer rule last year after O'Brien named Mike Glennon the Wolfpack's starting quarterback. Wilson, who didn't have to sit out a season because he already had earned his degree, went on to lead Wisconsin to a Big Ten title in his lone season with the Badgers.

Plenty of other players have taken similar advantage of the NCAA's graduate transfer rule. For instance, Wisconsin's starting quarterback this fall likely will be Maryland transfer and former ACC rookie of the year Danny O'Brien.

But, of course, this scenario is different.

The Penn State players face a situation more similar to what USC's players encountered in the summer of 2010, when the Trojans received NCAA sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban.

Under terms of the penalty, USC's players also were allowed to transfer without sitting out a year. The most noteworthy player to capitalize on the situation was defensive lineman Malik Jackson, who earned all-SEC honors at Tennessee and went to the Denver Broncos in the fifth round of the most recent NFL Draft.

Penn State's players might be more tempted to leave.

After all, Penn State faces a four-year postseason ban, twice as long as USC's. That means the incoming freshmen who get redshirted this fall would be the only players on Penn State's roster with any hope of representing the Nittany Lions in a bowl game for the remainder of their college careers.

So do they stay true to their original school, even though the circumstances have changed dramatically? Or do they go somewhere that offers them a postseason opportunity?

They won't have much time to make up their minds.

The start of the season is less than six weeks away, and most players would want to join their new teams in time for the beginning of preseason practice early next month.

That said, the NCAA has taken some steps to make the transition as smooth as possible for any Penn State players who choose to transfer.

As long as a player informs Penn State of his interest in transferring, the school can't restrict where he goes. Even a move to a Big Ten rival is permitted. Any schools interested in pursuing current Nittany Lions must inform Penn State.

Even if Penn State players made five official visits during their initial recruiting process - the maximum allowed by the NCAA - they're allowed to continue making official or unofficial visits during this second college search.

Already, the pursuit of Penn State's top players has begun.

ESPN reported Monday night that USC was seeking Redd to shore up its lack of tailback depth. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia coach Mark Richt indicated at a fan event Monday that his team also could go after some Penn State players.

"Some colleges are going to be interested in some of their players, and we're one of those schools," Richt told the newspaper. "It's pretty well documented that we're under our 85 [scholarship] limit. We'll try to get in touch with some of these young men and see if they're interested."

The topic naturally garnered plenty of attention Monday at the ACC Kick-Off in Greensboro, N.C., since ACC schools often recruit against Penn State for East Coast prospects, particularly in the Maryland and Washington D.C. area. Many of the ACC coaches consequently are already familiar with Penn State's players.

One exception is Clemson's Dabo Swinney, who acknowledged he didn't know many of the guys on Penn State's roster. But that won't necessarily stop him from pursuing Penn State players who want to join the defending ACC champions.

"This is unprecedented," Swinney said. "If somebody is interested, you have to look at that situation."

He won't be the only coach looking.



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