One of the most damaging sanctions to Penn State is the ability of current players to leave the program and become immediately eligible anywhere. Under the usual rule, players would be forced to sit out one year when transferring from one FBS program to another. Suddenly, players who may not like the idea of playing without the reward of bowls or even championship game appearances can finish their playing careers where they see fit.
But Pitt already has a full roster, you say. Well, that might not matter:
The NCAA is considering waiving the limits on 25 initial scholarships this year & 85 total scholarships this year for PSU transfers.— Chris Peak (@PantherLair) July 23, 2012
Peak also pointed on twitter that Pitt is still six under the 85 scholarship limit for next season, mostly due to several blown recruiting classes during the fiasco of the past few years. So Pitt could theoretically add six Penn State transfers without even needing this NCAA waiver.
With the start of camp rapidly approaching, the players and the programs will have to move very, very quickly or they'll lose a year of eligibility once Penn State's camp starts.
Pitt is already a team in transition in nearly all respects. Adding some transfers from Penn State could plug some valuable holes in the current lineup and in the past few recruiting classes. Below the fold, I'll take a look at a few players Pitt should consider reaching out to from the past three recruiting classes as well as the current unsigned commitments.
- Dorian Johnson, OL, Belle Vernon, PA - Obvious target #1. The elite offensive tackle from Fayette County slipped away from Pitt after a great visit to Penn State. That Pitt was the runner up from Johnson should mean that he's Pitt's to lose. He also visited Columbus before his commitment, so look for Ohio State to get back in the mix.
- Adam Breneman, TE, Camp Hill, PA - The top tight end in the country picked Penn State over offers from virtually every major program. Breneman is a "glue" recruit for Penn State and may be one of the few recruits to stick it out for the Lions. But assuming he leaves, I expect Brenemen to once again not be interested in Pitt - he picked Penn State over a top four that included Ohio State, Maryland and Notre Dame.
- Ross Douglas, DB, Avon, OH - The four-star DB decommitted from Penn State this morning and has an offer from Pitt. The problem is that there have been several schools have been recruiting the talented corner and Pitt never really made an impression. With Pitt's defensive back being a deep position for the Panthers, I doubt this is a good match.
- Andrew Nelson, OL, Hershey, PA - A big offensive lineman that called Penn State his dream school. Pitt was an early offer for a guy who rocketed from an unknown to a legit prospect with solid northeast offers. Depending on how Nelson is evaluated against the rest of the linemen in the class, he could be a great fit.
- Zayd Issah, LB/DE, Harrisburg, PA - A versatile athlete who could either play linebacker or defensive end could be a good pickup for Pitt. Pitt already has his one-time Central Dauphin teammate Artie Rowell and the Harrisburg area has been good to Pitt in recent years. He also has local offers from Virginia, Maryland and Rutgers.
Class of 2012
- Brian Gaia, OL, Baltimore, MD - Gaia had an offer from Pitt, but not a ton of serious interest. However, his teammate at Gillman, Devon Porchia, just began classes at Pitt and could persuade Gaia to give Pitt a look.
- Nyeem Wartman, LB, Archbald, PA - Wartman committed to Penn State over offers from Pitt, Florida, Illinois and Syracuse among others. I'm not sure what his interest is in Pitt, but the Big 33 participant would certainly help shore up Pitt's linebacker recruiting.
- Eugene Lewis, WR, Plymoth, PA - The four-star wide receiver had a solid offer sheet, including one from Pitt. Again, I don't know his level of interest, but Lewis is the type of play-making receiver that Pitt missed out on last class.
Class of 2011
- Bill Belton, WR, Atco, NJ - Belton was a one-time Pitt commit when Dave Wannstedt was still the coach. That may seem like ages ago in light of what's happened, but Belton has only been at Penn State for one season. Belton contributed to the Lions as a freshman as a receiver and as a wildcat quarterback. Like Lewis, Belton is a play-maker and should be a top target of Chryst.
- Donovan Smith, OL, Owings Mills, MD - A big-time offensive line prospect with four years of eligibility remaining. Smith could provide instant quality depth at tackle, an area of huge need for Pitt going forward. The problem is that Smith will likely be one of the most sought after member of Penn State's team and Pitt will likely have to fight off local teams like Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech, not to mention the SEC and the upper-tier of the Big 10.
- Deion Barnes, DE, Philadelphia, PA - A four-star in-state defensive end should be high on Pitt's radar as well. Pitt made his top five along with Georgia, Michigan State and South Carolina. Reaching out to Barnes should be a no-brainer considering the lack of depth at defensive end.
- Ben Kline, LB, Dallastown, PA - Like Belton, Kline was a Pitt commit once-upon-a-time, so Pitt should be considered an early leader for his services if they want him.
Class of 2010
- Miles Dieffenbach, OL, Pittsburgh, PA - Dieffenbach caused near panic when the four-star lineman (and son of Pitt's Women's Tennis Coach) committed to Penn State over Pitt. Now a redshirt sophomore, Dieffenbach could come in an immediately compete for time. I have no inside information, but if I'd have to bet, I'd bet he'll be a Panther.
- Mike Hull, LB, Canonsburg, PA - An elite linebacker prospect became a contributor on defense and special teams in his redshirt freshman year. He considered offers from Pitt, Michigan State and West Virginia before settling on PSU. Highly-touted linebackers should garner automatic interest from this staff, particularly ones where they already have Big 10 video one.
Obviously, this list is far from exhaustive, even just among current recruits through the class of 2010. The reason I limited it to those classes is that current juniors and seniors are too far away from the recruiting process to really make any sort of informed guess on where they could end up. Maybe even more to the point, it's tough to judge which players will even want to leave and which ones will want to end their playing careers as Lions. The Big Lead blog made a list of the top five impact players, so check that out too.
I think Chryst's success in the Big 10 is going to be a huge help in making players feel comfortable considering Pitt, especially ones that have been in the program for a while. These are players that Chryst has watched in person and extensively on tape, so I think he'll be familiar with a number of them, and vice versa.
Pitt seems to have all the necessary ingredients (location, coaching and available scholarships) to really pull some talent out of Penn State. This is another opportunity that Pitt must capitalize on to take the next step forward.