You would be hard pressed to find any fan of college football that is not in favor of Wednesday's rule change regarding redshirt eligibility. With players now eligible to play in up to four games and maintain their redshirt, expect to see plenty of coaches take advantage of working players in to see what they might have in their new arrivals. Penn State's No. 5 ranked 2018 recruiting class is obviously full of talent, and more than a few players stand to benefit from this change right away.
Saquon Barkley's production is a big piece to replace, but Miles Sanders is already slated to take over as the starting back. Tight end, on the other hand, is a huge question mark. Mike Gesicki caught 99 passes over the last two seasons, a key cog in the Nittany Lion offense. Those receptions are off to the Miami Dolphins, and there is not a bigger unknown on offense than who steps into that role. Nick Bowers and Jon Holland are the elder statesmen, but the former has struggled with injuries since arriving in Happy Valley, and the latter has yet to find the type of consistency needed. Third-year sophomore Danny Dalton has yet to see the field, but he was a highly regarded prospect out of high school.
The biggest assist may come from a pair of blue chip freshmen, however. Four-star prospects Zack Kuntz and Pat Freiermuth will both get a shot to lay claim to the position this fall. With this rule change, James Franklin has a fantastic opportunity to see what he has in the two before deciding if one, or both, see significant time throughout the season. Don't be surprised at all to see both get a shot over the first couple of games.
The Nittany Lions have several key holes to fill on defense, but the biggest question comes at linebacker. It is just about a given that Micah Parsons will get a shot at one of the spots this season, but fellow freshman Jesse Luketa may have an opening now with Wednesday's news.
The Ottawa native arrived on campus in January, and certainly has the size to play (6'3, 239 lbs.) early. The question for him, as it is for many first year players, is whether or not he is ready for the step up in competition. With four games to play with, and plenty of playing time available, it would make sense to see what Luketa can provide at a huge position of need.
Penn State needs to replace a pair of productive defensive tackles this fall. Kevin Givens, Robert Windsor, Damion Barber, Antonio Shelton, Ellison Jordan, and Fred Hansard are all likely to get a shot at making the rotation to varying levels. However, it is a pair of freshmen, PJ Mustipher, and Judge Culpepper, that could upset the apple cart.
Both arrived on campus in May, and both figure to get an opportunity to crack the rotation in their first year. With four games to play with, it stands to reason that they should get a shot to show they are ready to contribute.
Much of the attention for this new rule has rightfully been directed towards the impact on freshmen. However, one of the huge benefits to the players may come from how longer term injuries are handled.
Oftentimes you will hear about a player suffering an injury that could sideline him for enough games where it may not make sense to return to the field for only a few games, and lose an entire year of eligibility. If a player suffers an injury in fall camp that has him out until November, you may see them make a return once healthy for the season's final 3-4 games, rather than sit those out to avoid burning an entire season on just a handful of games. This could also help in avoiding rushed returns to the field.
Along those same lines, this figures to be a huge benefit to players, and teams, that suffer late-season injuries. Penn State fans remember the 2016 season when Will Fries and Michal Menet were just one more injury away from burning a redshirt in November. The Lions squeaked by, but if the same situation were to occur this season, there would be little holding either player back from playing if they were deemed ready.
Late season and BOWL GAMEs
The final players in Penn State's 2018 class are just arriving on campus, getting their feet wet with classes and workouts. Some may need months in Dwight Galt's program to get their strength and weight to a place suitable for the college game. Now, there is incentive for players and coaches to accelerate the physical development of freshmen who previously would have no shot at playing time due to size and strength, but were talented enough to make a difference. Freshmen who enrolled in January were always a leg-up, but now almost anyone in the true freshman class could potentially make an impact. Think of the benefits on the recruiting trail as well. This is a chance to honestly sell potential playing time to many more prospects.
As a fan of the game, true freshman getting their first action in a bowl game might be my favorite twist on this rule. Yes, there are a lot of bowl games, but bowl games are fun, and should be treated as such. They are a celebration for many programs, and a chance to reward players and fans alike with one more game in a warm destination.
The impetus for this new rule might even be traced back to the idea of allowing players to participate in bowl games without it counting as a year of eligibility. Players that are redshirting practice just as hard as their teammates, and the opportunity to be rewarded with some time in a bowl game is something that should excite all fans.