One of the most widely help opinions about Penn State's future success is it's inability to win with the scholarship limitations that came as a result of the Evil Jerry scandal. Penn State will be limited to 65 scholarships where as a normal FBS school is allowed 85 scholarship players.
I like to introduce topics and viewpoints counter to those that become widely accepted and this one really got me thinking. Why can’t Penn State succeed with 65 scholarship players when an NFL team plays with a 53 man roster every Sunday?
Enter Bill O’Brien. Why couldn't a guy who coached in the NFL not succeed with a larger pool of players at the collegiate level?
To be sure, the NFL vs. College models are different, but Bill O'Brien's NFL experience is key to this argument. He rose through the college and pro ranks and gained an intimate knowledge of how rosters work at both levels. He understands that there are positions on the field that require full time starters with significant experience. But he also recognizes that there are places where a non scholarship player (free agent) can fit in and contribute.
Before I go any further I threw the question out on twitter a couple days ago and I got a few arguments against this point:
@TimTolleyFS: @TheB1GTimePSU because they're not playing against teams with 53 man rosters and have no flexibility, i.e. free agency.
@TheB1GTimePSU Really? NFL is 53 vs. 53. PSU is 65 vs. 85.
@TheB1GTimePSU The talent of free agents in the pros is much higher than walk ons.
@TheB1GTimePSU injuries will destroy PSU depth and force too many walk ons into action
I can offer some support to the argument that O'Brien could not only succeed with 65 scholarship players, but thrive.
FOR THE MOST PART this season Penn State will be 3 scholarship players deep at every one of the 22 positions (66 scholarship players at last count). There will be a heavy rotation at some positions while others will only see action on special teams.
An NFL roster does not have this luxury. Most positions are not 3 deep and many starting players are forced to play special teams. An NFL roster does not have the ability to dress additional players that can step in at any time as Penn State does with it’s stable of walk ons.
Penn State will be allowed to have as many players on the sideline as any other team in the coming years, there will just be a disproportionate amount of walk ons. Football is football no matter what level it is played at. The people on the sidelines who don’t contribute during a game have the same impact in pee wee as they do in college and the pro’s. The players on the field make the plays to win games. Depth is only a concern when you start subtracting players for injury.
An NFL team that has injuries has the ability to go out to the free agent market and sign players. But are those players anywhere near the caliber of the players that are on the field? Would some free agent picked up in the middle of the season be as good a linebacker as Navarro Bowman? No, and those teams still find ways to win.
Translate this to another college team. If Ryan Shazier goes down for Ohio State, is the player who steps in behind him as good as he is? No. There is a reason those players are buried on the depth chart no matter if they are on scholarship or not.
No college football team plans on playing all 85 scholarship players every game. No college team plans on injuries. If a team gets hit with a catastrophic injury bug and has to dig deep into their reserves of course the product on the field will suffer.
Just because Penn State is missing one scholarship player per position buried on the depth chart means they can’t win like everyone else? Is a true freshman on scholarship a better player than a walk on who has been in the system for years?
Remember walk ons at major college football programs were usually the best players on their HS teams and are accomplished athletes. Penn State won’t be throwing a bunch of intramural flag football players out there to compete.
Professional teams win week in and week out with a 53 man roster. They move some pieces around throughout the year, but count on their starting 22 players to win championships.
If you disagree or think you can add support to this opinion get at me on twitter @TheB1GTimePSU.