Scholarship Breakdown Shows Nittany Lions’ Youth

A look at Penn State’s scholarship situation in this post-NCAA scholarship reduction period supports one of James Franklin’s most consistent sayings: the Nittany Lions are a young football team.

That much has been clear since the season began in Dublin, and numerous growing pains have been evident in the six games since. But just how young are they? Allow the numbers to explain:

The Nittany Lions are the second youngest team in the country, a fact Franklin likes to repeat. For next week’s primetime matchup against Ohio State, Penn State will have only a combined 18 juniors and seniors that were recruited with scholarships ready to play, while there will be 24 scholarship-recruited true freshmen.

In fact, there are only 12 seniors on the entire roster, and Bill Belton is the only senior offensive starter. The defense is slightly more mature, starting four seniors: Mike Hull, Adrian Amos, Ryan Keiser, and C.J. Olaniyan. With the addition of Sam Ficken on special teams, Penn State remarkably only starts six seniors.

Meanwhile, eight true freshmen have seen playing time. Franklin starts four redshirt freshmen as well: DaeSean Hamilton, Brendan Mahon, Andrew Nelson, and Chris Gulla. Eleven redshirts have seen action in the six games played.

The offensive line, which has been heavily scrutinized this season, is especially young and inexperienced. The anchor of this front five, junior tackle Donovan Smith, is the only non-freshman tackle with a scholarship. The four true freshmen tackles with scholarships are expected to redshirt, so that means Smith is the only active tackle with a scholarship. Smith had 20 starts in his career before the season opener against UCF. The rest of the line had a combined zero. Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia, both of whom have made starts this year, were playing on the other side of the ball as defensive linemen until just before spring practice began in March.

Penn State can have 75 players on scholarship this season. Of these 75 student-athletes, 64 were recruited with a scholarship and are available to play this season, though 17 true freshmen will potentially end up redshirting. That leaves a difference of 11 — and only 47 players recruited with scholarships are ready for action.

Miles Dieffenbach, Ben Kline, Adam Breneman, and Jake Kiley are recruited scholarship players that have been injured for the entirety of the season. There are also five players who joined the team as run-ons, and have since been given a scholarship. The 74th and 75th scholarships are granted to two Nittany Lions who quit the team, but, per the sanctions, keep their athletic scholarships.

Next year, Penn State can sign a full class of 25 scholarships and once again have a maximum 85 student-athletes on scholarship. Penn State currently has 18 verbal commits for this class, which 247 Sports ranks tenth in the country. But it’s uncertain that the Nittany Lions will reach 25 scholarships, and even then, many of those incoming freshmen will redshirt.

The scholarship-related sanctions may be over, but Penn State will continue to feel them, as it may take several years to entirely flush out its depth chart.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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