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Senior moments few and far between for Penn State football

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Barry Reeger | Trib Total Media
Penn State returner Jesse Della Valle (39) eludes Northwestern punter Chris Gradone (31) on a punt return Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014, at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

Don’t expect too many “senior moments” on the field Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

It’s likely the combined total of healthy seniors (by eligibility) that see the field for Penn State and Temple will be 14.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around this where you have so few upperclassmen,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said, speaking of his team’s nine healthy seniors.

Penn State is second only to Pitt among 125 FBS teams in terms of lowest percentage of juniors and seniors on its roster.

But when it comes to a lack of seniors alone, the Lions finally met their match. PSU’s roster has 11 seniors, a small amount but actually more than three of its opponents this season. That includes Temple, which has only seven seniors.

Of those seven, three are listed as starters and five on the two-deep depth chart. Six saw action in the Owls’ most recent game, but leading receiver Jalen Fizpatrick was in a walking boot and crutches earlier this week and might not play.

If so, considering one of the Owls’ seniors is a backup quarterback, Temple could have just four play Saturday.

Of Penn State’s nine healthy seniors, one (Miles Dieffenbach) has been limited to 10 snaps this season because of injury. The Lions start three seniors (all on defense) although the other six see significant action, including Dieffenbach, whose role is expected to expand this week.

Of the nine seniors who will play Saturday, five are team co-captains. Franklin suggested that the lack of quantity of senior leadership has been more than made up for by the quality of those captains (Mike Hull, C.J. Olaniyan, Jesse Della Valle, Sam Ficken and Dieffenbach).

“Don’t get me wrong, we’d love to have 30 seniors right now,” Franklin said. “But when you don’t have 30, the few that you have, have to have really strong voices. We’ve been fortunate to have that.”

Penn State’s bottom-heavy roster is exhibited by examining who plays significant: There are roughly twice as many true freshmen (7-8, depending if Troy Apke gets playing time at safety rather than just on special teams) than fifth-year seniors (four) and easily more freshmen of any sort (13-14) than seniors of any sort (nine).

Running back Bill Belton has been the lone senior who’s regularly played on offense. That is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Getting game reps at a young age are hard to come by, so that’ll help them tremendously (in the future),” Dieffenbach said.

It might be a future still a couple years away.

With only 12 players in their third season of eligibility believed to be on scholarship, things won’t get much better for PSU in the senior department over the next two seasons: that’s when the two incoming classes that had scholarship limits of 15 due to NCAA sanctions mature into fourth-year players.

Chris Adamski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected]b.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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