Yesterday, Micah Parsons confirmed that he would be skipping out on the 2020 season and entering the 2021 NFL Draft. His decision to forgo this upcoming season isn’t all too stunning when you consider the health risks that these players are faced with, plus the fact that this is going to be a wonky college football season — i.e. 10-game conference-only schedules. When you look at the situation in its totality, it’s no surprise to see players around the country — like Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman, and Purdue’s Rondale Moore — opting against it.
An agent estimated ~30 players who could opt out and are locks to get drafted high. Bateman and Farley fit that mold.— Alex Scarborough (@AlexS_ESPN) August 4, 2020
“But the problem,” he said, "is there are thousands of guys who think they're as good as those players, might take that same gamble and might ultimately fail.”
Seeing that Parsons was opting out wasn’t disappointing in it of itself, but rather, it was a cruel wake up call that any semblance of a “normal” football season is out the window. Sure, the larger more pragmatic side of me always knew this was going to be the case, but boy oh boy, true reality sets in when the best player on your team is the one who decides he isn’t playing.
For Penn State as it relates to Parsons’ decision, the obvious question is: what’s next? What’s next in the sense of if any other players will opt out? What’s next in the sense of who will take Parson’s spot as the Will linebacker? And what’s next in the sense of what is the best way to navigate the 2020 season?
The last question is an important one because Parsons’ decision points toward the abnormality of the upcoming season. Because of that, I don’t think it’s the worst idea to treat this year like one giant bowl game. Of course, the main objective should continue to be to win. But there also needs to be a larger than usual focus on getting younger players practice and game reps. Seeing the forest for the trees, if you will.
Parsons’ spot is a perfect example of this. With Parsons out of the picture, it wouldn’t be surprising to see sophomore Brandon Smith move over from the Sam to the Will — or at the very least, get more snaps at the Will, a position he was likely to command in 2021 when Parsons was gone.
That move has a domino effect where redshirt freshman Lance Dixon would see more reps and playing time at the Sam. All of a sudden, Penn State is heading into the 2021 season with much more experience at linebacker, and players like Brandon Smith and Lance Dixon will be ahead of the curve when they enter their third season.
I’m not saying to bench every senior: guys like Michal Menet, Will Fries, Shaka Toney, and Tariq Castro-Fields came back to Penn State for a reason and their decisions should continued to be honored. But I think you need to look at this season for what it is — weird, complex, and very well could be cancelled at a moments notice — and do everything as a program to benefit from it.
An all out tank? Of course not. That doesn’t benefit the program in any way, and even without Micah Parsons, this is still a top 10 team in the country. But keeping an eye toward the future and playing the long game could pay dividends when normalcy (hopefully) returns in 2021.