LOS ANGELES – Standout running back Silas Redd went from reluctant workhorse on Penn State's foreclosed farm to eager addition to USC's juggernaut Tuesday when he transferred under a rule designed to enable players to escape a severely punished program.
Redd, Penn State's top offensive player who rushed for 1,241 yards last season, informed Penn State that he is transferring and his father, Silas Redd Sr., sent a text message to Nate Bauer of Rivals.com saying as much.
That the transfer added the crowning piece to a national championship contender just now shedding its own bad-boy sanctions was unforeseen by the NCAA, a bit ironic and completely within the rules, or absence thereof.
Not only can Nittany Lion players transfer without sitting out a year, they can be aggressively recruited. And USC coach Lane Kiffin was especially forceful with Redd. Remember, Kiffin was on the other end of the same rule two years ago after USC was hit with heavy NCAA sanctions stemming from the Reggie Bush scandal.
Kiffin wooed Redd with a personal visit. He wowed him with a Power Point presentation on the lifelong benefits of joining the Trojan family and the short-term benefits of playing a season with senior quarterback Matt Barkley. He had backup quarterback Max Wittek, a youth football teammate of Redd, call his old buddy. He brought Redd to campus and walked him through the new 110,000-square-foot, $70 million John McKay Center. He talked national championship.
Kiffin easily reconciled doing to Penn State what he abhorred other programs doing to USC. He wants to win. He had permission. Oddly, the NCAA helped the Trojans overcome sanctions many thought were unfairly harsh all along. That surely wasn't the NCAA's intent, but Kiffin wouldn't let the opportunity pass.
"It is important to say that this is not something that I wished for myself, but it has happened nonetheless," Redd said in an email to Rivals.com. "My family and I have spent many hours in recent days trying to decide what will be best for me as I look for the future – both personally and professionally.
"… USC will be the best fit for my academic, athletic and personal needs over the next two years."
The result is a Redd-letter day at USC. The only quibble with the Trojans' offense had been at tailback, where smallish and oft-injured fifth-year senior Curtis McNeal was the incumbent. Redd, a junior, is a major upgrade and will balance an attack led by Barkley and touchdown-machine wide receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
USC will have to free a scholarship for Redd because the NCAA – in anticipation of this particular transfer – announced that a school "subject to scholarship limits due to an infractions case is allowed to accept transfers from Penn State but cannot exceed the scholarship limits specified in its infractions report." The Trojans are at their scholarship limit of 75, but a source said one player is expected to be academically ineligible. USC also self-reported a secondary NCAA violation because Wittek spoke publicly about Redd, a minor no-no.
Redd is expected to go to the NFL after this season if it's clear he'd be a first- or even second-round pick, although there's a much better chance he'd return for his senior season at USC than at Penn State. He is the first Nittany Lion starter to leave, and whether it triggers a torrent of transfers remains to be seen. He'll take heat in State College, Pa., from folks who think he's disloyal, but it's hard to blame him. Redd, like his now-former teammates, arrived at Penn State believing in coach Joe Paterno and a program unsullied by scandal.
That all changed with the school's cover-up of former assistant Jerry Sandusky's child molestation crimes. Paterno was implicated, then died in January. New coach Bill O'Brien has solid credentials, but the impact of losing bowl eligibility and 40 scholarships the next four years – not to mention being hit with a $60 million fine – is bound to be debilitating.
O'Brien and the players who have spoken publicly seem confident defections will be few. Anyone can leave without penalty until training camp starts Aug. 6, and O'Brien said, "I'd expect the kids with us when we start our training camp to stay with us." He'll cinch the deal Sept. 1 by playing the entire roster in the opener against Ohio. Besides Redd, the only other player to leave is backup safety Tim Buckley, who transferred to North Carolina State.
The worst is to come regardless how many players transfer. The scholarship reductions will decimate the roster. The bowl ban will sap spirits. Criminal trials involving former administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz – and perhaps former school president Graham Spanier – and civil negotiations with Sandusky's victims will cloud the season.
Although Redd universally was admired for his character, commitment and leadership the last two years, he recognized this. And it's not as if he was recruited by Illinois or Purdue, two middling Big Ten schools acting like it's the first day of trout season, trying to reel in as many Nittany Lions as possible. USC is an exceptional program that set its sights solely on Silas Redd.
The Sandusky stigma will be hard for Penn State to shed, the stench difficult to cleanse. Demolishing the showers where he abused young boys will be a more important step than removing the Paterno statue. Discarding the plain uniforms that for so long projected tradition and innocence is in the works. O'Brien's best bet is to develop a recruiting pitch for 2014 and beyond, to sell high school players on rebuilding the program when sanctions end in 2016.
Until then, Penn State must be contrite, avoid bitterness, lay low and begin rebuilding brick by brick.
And if Redd and USC win the BCS championship, the Nittany Lions must revisit those vows. Avoid bitterness. Lay low. Rebuild. Recognize that a little something from Penn State made it to the title game and that Redd had every right to get there in a different uniform.
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