by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)
The Penn State football program was decimated by the NCAA on Monday, with the announcement of perhaps the harshest sanctions in the history of the organization. The Nittany Lions received a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, scholarship losses that will bring PSU's scholarship totals down from 85 to 65 and vacated wins from 1998-2011. The punishment was shy of the "death penalty," but it's really a de facto death penalty that could push the program into irrelevancy for the better part of a decade.
The ripple effect of the sanctions will be felt beyond the Penn State football program, reaching to non-revenue sports and even impacting other programs around the country, as teams who play the Nittany Lions suddenly face an easier schedule and teams all around college football try to poach players looking for a way out of State College. Those ripples will be felt in Evanston, as well — heck it'll be impossible for any team in the Big Ten not to notice them — but NU isn't likely to "benefit" much from Penn State's downfall. In fact, the scandal may have a smaller effect on the Wildcats than it does any other Big Ten team.
The most obvious reason NU won't see a competitive advantage from the Penn State sanctions is the simple fact that the Wildcats will rarely see the Nittany Lions on the field during the "sanctioned" years. This fall will be NU's last meeting with PSU until 2017 and the Lions' sanctions only last until 2015. While the Penn State football program won't have made a full recovery by that 2017 meeting, the rebuilding process will have already begun. Even this year's meeting could be tough for NU because, since we're already so close to fall camp, it's unlikely there will be a lot of transfers from PSU before the season. Don't expect NU to gain much of an advantage over Penn State because of the sanctions — at least not on the playing field — due to pure bad luck in the way the schedule plays out.
While on-field meetings will ultimately be what are most affected by the sanctions, the knee-jerk reaction from fans across the country was "will my team be able to steal any players from Penn State?" The notion that PSU will lose a majority of its team is wrong, but the Nittany Lions are sure to lose some players, if not now then after the season. One such rumor has already taken off, as ESPN's Joe Schad reported that star running back Silas Redd — he tore up NU for 164 yards and a TD (9.1 YPC) in 2011 — is considering transferring to USC. But could NU benefit from any Penn State transfers?
Pat Fitzgerald cleared up the scholarship limit question on Monday at the Northwestern Coaches Caravan, telling PurpleWildcats.com's Chris Emma that NU is already at the 85-scholarship limit, but adding Penn State players would count toward the next year. Therefore, NU can add an 86th player for this year, but would be limited to 84 in 2013. However, it's unlikely that the Wildcats will even need to take advantage of that opportunity.
Like nearly every other coach in the country, Fitzgerald will likely inquire about PSU players that are interested in transferring, but NU doesn't seem like a likely landing point for any Penn State transfers. The main reason for this is that NU and PSU recruit different players in the first place. The Wildcats and Nittany Lions rarely cross lines in recruiting — they offered nine of the same kids between 2010 and 2012, according to Pre Snap Read — and while they'll occasionally offer the same players, it's tough to remember any time when a recruiting battle has come down to those two schools. It's likely that players who leave Penn State will either opt to go to a school they nearly chose in the first place or a high-profile program. NU doesn't fit that description for many Penn State players. The same goes for the current recruiting class — here's a good breakdown on where they all stand — as it's likely that none of them would have chosen NU, even if PSU had been out of the picture in the first place.
Just as NU won't benefit from PSU player transfers, it also likely won't benefit much in recruiting since, as mentioned before, the schools typically recruit different kids. Penn State tends to get into recruiting battles with schools like Ohio State and Michigan, so those schools should see a benefit in their next few classes. NU, however, typically competes against Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Boston College and, in the case of higher-profile recruits, Notre Dame and Stanford. In fact, the closest the Cats and Lions have come to crossing paths recently is with 5-star DT Tommy Schutt, who considered NU — he's from nearby Glenbard West HS — before committing to Penn State and then eventually switching his commitment to Ohio State. However, NU wasn't even in his top five. Some schools will benefit in recruiting from Penn State's downfall, but don't expect NU to see an influx of top recruits who otherwise would have chosen Penn State. If history tells us anything, the PSU sanctions should have very little impact on NU's recruiting efforts.
Some teams will score big off Penn State's sanctions. Some teams will find an easier ride to a conference championship. Don't expect NU to see that kind of benefit in any aspect of the game, from on the field to adding transfers to recruiting. There will be minor ripple effects in that the games against Penn State will likely be a little bit easier than they were before — that will be especially true if Silas Redd is gone in 2012 — but it's a small "benefit" compared to what some schools will receive.
Football in State College will never be the same. And while that's true of football in the entire Big Ten and the landscape of the conference, as well, there shouldn't be too many changes in Evanston when everything is all said and done.