The final year of Penn State's bowl ban could be lifted for next season, according to a published report Wednesday, but the school does not appear to have a good chance of going to a bowl game this season.
The Nittany Lions have two years remaining on their four-year bowl ban levied in 2012. There has been much speculation the NCAA would do away with that sanction next month, as long as PSU receives a positive review from former Sen. George Mitchell, who has been monitoring the school's progress after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The Sporting News, citing two anonymous sources within the NCAA, reported Wednesday that Penn State has a "strong case" to have the final year of the bowl ban lifted. That would mean the team could go to a bowl game next season, but the story indicated nothing about lifting the ban for this year.
Mitchell's annual report on Penn State is expected to be released next month. He gave a positive report a year ago, and the NCAA rewarded PSU for its compliance by drastically reducing the football program's scholarship sanctions.
Penn State originally would have been limited to 65 scholarships this season, along with the next three. However, under the reduced sanctions, the Lions can have 75 scholarships this year, 80 next year and be back up to the full allotment of 85 in 2016.
The NCAA's about face in showing Penn State leniency last year has left many fans hoping the governing body would do so again this year. However, that might have to wait a year, and only if, according to The Sporting News report, Penn State continues to "reach and go beyond" guidelines established by the NCAA.
SUBHD: On Irish time
The Penn State team arrived in Ireland on Wednesday morning, had a tour of Croke Park Stadium and took part in its first practice in the country.
Coach James Franklin was asked a couple of times about the team being "tired" but insisted that wasn't the case and that everyone rested well on the overnight flight.
To get acclimated to the time difference - Ireland is five hours ahead - the players did not go to sleep upon arrival. Franklin wanted them to stay awake all day to get their bodies adjusted, which he said they would be after a good night's sleep Wednesday.
One of the first thing everyone with the team noticed was that the field at the stadium is enormous, much bigger than an American football field or even a soccer field. The stadium is primarily used for Gaelic games.
"It's an awesome venue," PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg said in a video posted online by team officials.
"It's different," the quarterback added about the size of the stadium. "I'm looking at it, and there's a little more room behind the end of the end zone, which I don't know how that's going to affect us once we get down there and start warming up. We'll see if that has anything to do with depth perception. But I think it will be interesting."
SUBHD: Efficiency matters
While we still don't know exactly what to expect from coach James Franklin's offense, Hackenberg provided some insight this week. He said there are "a lot of ways to attack" a defense.
"It's one of those systems where, if you do your job and everyone else does their job, it's a very efficient offense, it moves very well," the quarterback said.
Hackenberg added he thinks the offense can be even better than it was last year, although not necessarily early in the season since there are so many new components and personnel.
"It's going to take a little while for us to gel," Hackenberg said.
SUBHD: Fresh faces
Many fans try to predict which true freshmen will make a big impact early on each season, and there are a number of candidates who could do so Saturday. Receivers Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall have been getting much of the attention, along with linebacker Jason Cabinda.
Another player to keep an eye on is cornerback Grant Haley, the fastest player on the team and someone who has made an impact since the first time he took the field in practice.
"He just comes out to practice every day and makes plays," linebacker Mike Hull said of Haley. "First week, first scrimmage (he) really stood out."
The Lions plan to rotate several defensive backs into Saturday's game, and since UCF has a number of veteran receivers, there could be a lot of plays to be made in the secondary. Haley's speed could come in handy in that regard.
Haley also should get a chance to return kickoffs, Franklin said, which could be a good fit with his game-breaking speed.