ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Not even the “Granddaddy” of all bowl games is immune from opt-outs.
There will be some notable names missing when seventh-ranked Utah faces ninth-ranked Penn State in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, but the absence of the likes of Utes tight end Dalton Kincaid and Nittany Lions cornerback Joey Porter Jr. has not resulted in negative reactions from their teammates.
“We understand that a lot of players, they have their futures to think about. And when you work with these guys every single day, the blood, sweat and tears, you understand that these guys are your brothers and you want what’s best for them,” Utah wide receiver DeVaughn Vele said.
The Rose Bowl faced its first significant set of voluntary absences a year ago when Ohio State had four notable starters decide not to play to instead begin focusing on preparations for the NFL draft.
Penn State tight end Brenton Strange could have followed that route. The redshirt junior announced on social media Tuesday that he will give up his remaining eligibility and enter the draft, but not before he suits up to face the two-time Pac-12 champions in his Nittany Lions’ finale.
“Me, I look at it as one last chance to play with my brothers and be with my family,” said Strange, who has 32 receptions for 362 yards and five touchdowns this season. “I’ve grown so much with these guys right next to me, and I just wouldn’t want to go out without playing in the last one.”
The extent of that participation, however, is not a certainty.
Penn State coach James Franklin indicated the snap count for players like Strange could be managed.
“I don’t necessarily feel that every player should or will play all 80 or 90 plays that may be in the game. So there’s a way, I think, with a good relationship and transparent conversation of being able to kind of finish this the right way,” Franklin said.
Franklin pointed to the presence of third-year sophomore wide receiver Parker Washington at the Rose Bowl and its associated activities, including a visit to Disneyland on Wednesday.
Washington declared for the draft earlier this month after sustaining an injury that kept him out of Penn State’s last game of the regular season against Michigan State. He wouldn’t have been able to play in the bowl game but still made the trip to Los Angeles.
“I think part of it is just kind of who Parker is and how he’s wired. But I think the other thing is he’s in a position where it’s not like he could go somewhere and start his training anyway, so it just made sense for us to be able to spend more time with Parker, Parker to be able to spent some more time with his teammates,” Franklin said. “We only got a few days left together kind of as this family, so, yeah, it’s awesome having everybody here.”
As Vele acknowledged, every situation is different.
Kincaid, for example, sustained an undisclosed injury in the final game of the regular season against Colorado. But he gutted it out in the Pac-12 title game, making four receptions for 40 yards to help Utah secure a return visit to the Rose Bowl after losing 48-45 to the Buckeyes.
“That’s just the brotherhood that we have,” Vele said. “Like most other guys would normally just sit out and worry about their future and their careers in the NFL and everything, but he was selfless enough to put his body on the line for us to get us to this point. And him getting that recovery time is most opportune for him, and I feel like it’s the best option for him right now.”
When the Rose Bowl becomes part of an expanded 12-team College Football Playoff in 2024, it seems unlikely star players will sit out for reasons other than injury.
The remaining bowl games could offer other incentives that don’t involve playing for the national championship, notably financial enticements in the new era of name, image and likeness compensation.
“As far as making sure they did participate, that’s a good concept,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I mean, it goes right along with NIL, in my opinion, and players striking their deals and being able to get very well compensated for playing college football, which is completely 180 degrees from what it was just a few years ago. I think that will provide and really give some motivation for the players to all participate and not opt out.”
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