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How The NCAA’s New Redshirt Rule Affects Penn State

The NCAA approved two major rule changes for college football on June 13. Both will significantly alter the way Penn State and other Division I programs operate.

Starting this season, student-athletes will be allowed to participate in up to four games, including a team’s bowl game, without losing their redshirt status.

Players can also transfer to whichever school they please. Head coaches will no longer be able to block a player from transferring to a program within conference or on an upcoming schedule, like Nick Saban and other Power Five coaches have often done in the past.

The ramifications of the new redshirt rule, in particular, will be felt immediately for James Franklin and his coaching staff in 2018.

Before this sweeping change came into effect, coaches would be prone to agonize over the decision to burn a freshman’s redshirt midway through the season. Injuries, transfers, and shear improvement on the part of the player were all potential reasons to do so.

Penn State players sing the alma mater after a 52-0 win over Akron on Sept. 2.

Now, Franklin can meticulously deploy true freshmen from his fifth-ranked 2018 recruiting class however he chooses, whether in the Appalachian State opener or the regular season finale versus Maryland.

Speaking of the Terrapins, if Penn State were to hypothetically take a big lead again in Beaver Stadium on Nov. 24, it would present the perfect opportunity to give some lesser-utilized freshmen valuable Big Ten experience, when in the past they would have remained firmly on the bench.

Micah Parsons, Justin Shorter, Jake Pinegar, and Ricky Slade Jr. are a few of the candidates who could carve out sizable roles for themselves throughout the season, but the chance to take a solid look at tight end Pat Freiermuth and a talented crop of new defensive linemen, for instance, is an enormous boon for the Nittany Lions.

Imagine the feeling of pure joy defensive line coach Sean Spencer would have unleashing Jayson Oweh and PJ Mustipher on an unsuspecting team that didn’t have any college film on them.

Miles Sanders is a prime example of someone who could have benefited from this rule back in 2016.

Of course, offensive linemen like Rasheed Walker and Juice Scruggs would have to really impress position coach Matt Limegrover before getting even a whiff of the field, as true freshmen, especially those who enroll in the summer, rarely make that immediate jump their first year on campus.

Quarterback Will Levis is also unlikely to make an impact this season with Trace McSorley, Tommy Stevens, and Sean Clifford all ahead of him on the depth chart. However, the possibility is certainly there for Levis to see some action in garbage time late in the season if he can become comfortable enough with the playbook.

While it could create some scholarship flexibility issues if more players are able to retain their redshirt, it likely won’t be enough to cause a serious problem in the long term.

After all, defensive backs Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos were the only true freshmen to earn a letter last season.

Wade (38) finished with 31 tackles and a forced fumble in his debut campaign.

Each August, Franklin classifies his new players into red, yellow, and green categories during preseason camp to give them an idea of where they stand on the roster.

The dangling carrot of playing time may be the extra ingredient some true freshmen need to keep them motivated late in the season.

It may even prevent potential transfers down the road if players can get an early taste of what it’s like to make a key tackle or score a touchdown in Beaver Stadium.

Half or more of Penn State’s true freshmen are likely to play in some capacity this season given the new redshirt rule, which can only be seen as a positive for all involved.

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected]

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