AZ football programs could benefit from Penn State mess

As the fall-out from the Penn State football chaos continues to evolve, the Arizona football coaches are standing by with their fishing nets ready to scoop up any departing talent.

And both University of Arizona and Arizona State coaches have their own wish lists prepared.

Penn State was just hit with a $60 million fine, loss of scholarships through the 2017 season, and a bowl ban for the next four years following an NCAA investigation into sexual abuse charges against the school’s long-time defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.

And that has some of the players reconsidering their options for their college football careers.

The program’s new head coach, Bill O’Brien, has circled the wagons and is trying to hold on to players considering defecting, since the NCAA has confirmed that it will not impose the normal penalty of sitting out for a year following a transfer.

A group of about 30 players held a news conference a couple of days ago to affirm their intent to stay with the program and ride out the turbulence.

But there are some who haven’t made up their minds yet, and there is some talent worth pursuing among those undecideds.

Arizona State’s new head coach, Todd Graham, has reportedly sent his shopping list of players he would like to talk with to Penn State, as required by NCAA regulations.  Rich Rodriguez, the new Wildcats boss in Tucson, is also said to have his eye on at least a couple of players that he and his staff had been interested in even before he arrived at Arizona.

Both coaches have roots in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic areas of the country, and Graham actually spent the last year as the head coach at Pitt.  Rodriquez and several members of his current staff at Arizona have links to a handful of players they chased while on the recruiting trail at the University of Michigan, and West Virginia before that.

Arizona is dangerously thin at the linebacker position after last-year’s back-up, David Lopez, a junior college transfer, left the program at the start of the summer and Brian Wagner followed suit, leaving in mid-June for ‘personal reasons.’

So any help from the Nittany Lions at that position would be greatly appreciated.

Wagner was one of the top tacklers in the nation last year at Akron and was expected to play a major role in Rodriguez’s 3-3-5 defense being installed this season.   The fifth-year senior recorded 147 tackles in 11 games last year.

Rodriguez reportedly has his eye on Ben Kline, a three-star linebacker prospect out of high school who redshirted at PSU last year; RichRod had offered Kline a scholarship while he was head coach at Michigan, and has offered one now at Arizona. lists the 6’2″, 224-pound Kline as the 27th-best inside LB in the country.

In a bit of irony, it was just announced that Brennan Franklin has committed to play at Penn State this year.  Franklin is a 6’2″, 234-pound linebacker from Centennial High School in Peoria who compiled 450 tackles during his prep career and was a first-team All-state selection last year as a senior.

To keep things interesting, Graham has also included Kline on his Pennsylvania shopping list, as well as teammate Nyeem Wartman, another 3-star linebacker prospect.

The Sun Devils also lack depth at the linebacker position after losing four key players at the backer slot from last year, including Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons, Oliver Aaron, and Colin Parker.

It also would be a fair assumption to say Graham is interested in Brian Gaia, an offensive lineman that he tried to recruit last year to play for Pitt.  The Sun Devils need help in the trenches, since seven of their top nine offensive linemen from last year are gone.

According to a post on Yahoo!.com, Graham may be inching ahead on the hunt for Lions, reporting that Ryan Nowicki, a redshirt offensive guard at PSU, has scheduled a visit to ASU.  The two-time All-state selection from Cactus High School in Glendale, could be a factor in the ASU rebuilding program as early as this season.

This ‘free agency’ scramble in Happy Valley should be shaking out fairly soon, as players need to make their decisions sooner rather than later.  And coaches from the other schools have only until  Aug. 27, the first day of classes at PSU, to make their pitch to potential defectors.

It’s beginning to look like some of them may find their way to the desert.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)