It’s that time of year when injuries start to pile up for college football teams. Little bumps and bruises along the way add up, as do sudden large injuries. We hear every week about how certain teams will be playing without their star player, or that they were limited in practice.
For most teams, this means a sure win is suddenly a tossup, and a tossup is moved firmly into the loss column. Season expectations can change because of a tweaked knee or a sudden shot to the ribs (see: Penn State c. 2021).
The best teams, however, spend years building their rosters with depth. Players that may be lower on the depth chart than the starters, and perhaps for good reasons, but those that will be counted on to step into the starting lineup SOME day - it just so happens that that day can come sooner than expected.
Case in point: your Penn State Nittany Lions. Take a look at the offensive line against Indiana. Starting LT Olu Fashanu, LG Landon Tengwall, and RT Caedan Wallace were all out with injuries. Backup LG Hunter Nourzad went down with an injury on the first snap of the game.
Here come the backups.
LT Drew Shelton (a true freshman), LG JB Nelson (a true junior JUCO transfer), and RT Bryce Effner (thus far career backup) came in and put on a master class against the Hoosiers.
The Lions rushed the ball for 179 yards, at 3.7 yards per carry. They passed for 304 yards and two touchdowns. They surrendered no quarterback hurries, just one sack, and three tackles for loss.
Folks, that is what we mean when we say depth.
Yes, Indiana is not the best team in the land, but they’re a Power 5 foe and Penn State’s backups ran laps around them.
In a world where Penn State fancies itself a playoff contender, it’s nice to see the fruits of James Franklin’s recruiting labor paying dividends. It’s the reason so many people (myself included) put so much stock in recruiting - the teams that regularly put together top 10 (or top 5) recruiting classes are the ones that are regularly in the top 10 (or top 5) and regularly vie for the playoffs.
If James Franklin can keep it up, the Lions are in a good spot. They’ll always have to contend with Ohio State and Michigan, but they’ll be right in the thick of it more often than not.
Build that depth, and trust that your team can handle the bumps and bruises along the way, because they’re coming whether you like it or not.