One of the biggest delights of preseason camp is seeing a true freshman work his way into the mix right off the bat, earning playing time when most of his classmates are likely to be relegated to a redshirt season on the sidelines, bulking up and getting faster.
It's not so fun when one of those guys gets his redshirt burned midseason—that generally means bad things have happened—but that's an October thing, not an August thing.
At Penn State, it's different, though. The sanctions are about to hit in full force. That scholarship count is about to dip mightily. Winter is coming. And thus, it is an absolute imperative that Penn State's freshman class gets on the field early and often—and then stays there.
Here's more on that freshman class from the Patriot-News:
"Akeel Lynch, the freshman, is going to be a decent player. So we've got a lot of guys back there," O'Brien said, talking about not just Lynch but his backfield as a whole.
"Akeel has shown flashes of being able to help us."
But Lynch isn't the only freshmen that could see early time. With Penn State's secondary in dire straights depth wise, Da'Quan Davis, Jordan Lucas, and Jake Kiley could also see time.
"In the secondary so far I've seen Da'Quan Davis. I think he's a good communicator, a tough kid. I think he's got good quickness, and I've enjoyed watching him play," O'Brien said.
"I think we've got Jordan Lucas back there that is an athletic guy that can play corner or safety. I've been very happy with him, and Jake Kiley we're playing at safety, and he's picking it up."
This is the last full class of freshmen Penn State's going to have for (the college football equivalent of) a long time. It's likely the last class that's going to have top-level talent at more than a couple spots for a long time. So it needs to be the rock upon which Penn State builds in the coming years.
One of the more insidious aspects of the sanctions is that, after the 2012 season, Penn State players will still be able to transfer away without a year-long penalty until the 2013 season begins. So, it is absolutely critical that Penn State gets its true freshmen engaged in the program, on the field and actively involved in games.
That doesn't mean Penn State should bench everyone who's not a freshman this year and start taking its lumps early. What it does mean, though, is that Penn State needs to get those guys acclimated to play and on the field in situational roles, getting them ready for starting by 2013 and 2014.
That way, when 2015 rolls around and Penn State's nearing the home stretch of its sanctions, a big season built off of its senior class will be that light at the end of the tunnel for players, fans and, most importantly, recruits to see and work toward.
Penn State can survive these sanctions. It'll be tough, and come 2014 or so, it won't be pretty. But if this year's freshmen can turn their senior season into even a 6-6 campaign, they'll be showing the world that Penn State's ready to get back to the top of the Big Ten. And they'll be heroes in Happy Valley for decades to come.