Penn State's transfer situation has taken a sudden and immediate turn south, and it's likely to have major consequences for the well-being of the 2012 team.
We're not talking about Silas Redd going to USC on Wednesday, either. This is worse.
Fera earned second-team All-Big Ten honors (media) as a punter last season, averaging 42 yards per punt with 18 punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. He also connected on 14-of-17 field goal attempts and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.
Fera, a native of Cypress, Texas, earned three Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors in 2011 and became the first Nittany Lions specialist since Chris Bahr in 1975 to be the starter for field goals, kickoffs and punts.
Next to starting running back Silas Redd, Fera is the most significant departure for Penn State so far. The Lions likely will turn to sophomore Sam Ficken for place-kicking duties and junior Alex Butterworth to handle the punting, but Fera certainly will be missed, especially for an offense that could have some significant struggles.
How confident are you in Penn State's ability to replace Fera this year?
Worth noting: ESPN's actually wrong about Fera's all-conference honors; he was a second-team All-Big Ten kicker, not punter (but to be fair, Penn State's own bio for Fera lists him as a second-team All-Big Ten punter per both the media and coaches, which is even more incorrect). The 2011 All-Big Ten team is here (.PDF warning). You can check for yourself.
Again: this is worse news for Penn State than losing Silas Redd. Redd's obviously the higher-profile player and someone who's going to get more headlines and national attention over the course of the year, but at the very least Penn State can replace him with the tandem of big back Curtis Dukes and promising sophomore Bill Belton.
There is talent in Redd's wake in other words, and while Bill O'Brien's not going to be able to lean on the run game as much as he'd like anymore, he's also not going to have to abandon it and just start chucking it all over the place.
With special teams, it's different. Fera was the leg for Penn State last year, and he was excellent at it too. Now, out of nowhere, that leg's gone and not coming back. And unlike with offensive scheming, O'Brien can't really work around that.
Sure, he'll have a punter and a kicker and a kickoff guy (two to three guys filling those roles altogether, in all likelihood). But they won't be Fera, and that could have a devastating effect on a Penn State team that is going to need to outperform opponents on the margins in order to be successful in 2012.
Butterworth was mediocre at best as a punter last year, with eight punts for 38.5 yards. With any luck he'll be better than that next year, because Penn State needs better. Ficken played early in the year as a true freshman last year and went 1-of-2 on field goals and made one extra point. He also saw some work on kickoffs, but Fera quickly took over that role.
That's not confidence-inspiring stuff, to say the least. And if O'Brien doesn't have a reliable kicker on his roster, all of a sudden that changes his entire offensive approach. Punts from the 37? Running on 3rd-and-9 at the 25 to get in better field-goal range? No directional punting in order to avoid shanks? Those are all on the table all of a sudden, and they're things you don't have to worry about with Fera.
So this is bad. This is very bad for Penn State. Ficken and Butterworth may develop into solid performers down the road, but Fera was that solid performer last year and right now. Penn State needed him this year.
And now we're about to find out just how badly Penn State needed him.