We're all a bit squeamish when it comes to recruiting around here. Our friends at Black Heart Gold Pants like to caption their recruiting updates, "Caring is creepy." It must also be said that when it comes to recruiting, "creepy is caring." While it's ridiculously nearsighted to throw a fit after every single recruiting update on Scout or Rivals, it's important stuff even if it's a bit icky. All of this said, you may have noticed that Penn State hasn't exactly been doing...well, anything with respect to recruiting. It's the end of June, and Penn State's lone commit is a two-star tight end from Delaware. Look at the teams you'd consider Penn State's main competition, and compare. Ohio State. Pittsburgh. Michigan. Notre Dame. Rutgers. Yes, it's only mid-summer, but this isn't encouraging.
It's an unbelievably down year for high school football talent in Pennsylvania. Very down. Scout's only five-star Pennsylvania player, Oil City tight end Ben Koyack, was considered a toss-up recruit between Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Penn State -- he wound up at Notre Dame. Of the remaining PA recruits, only Kyshoen Jarrett, Terrell Chestnut, Michael Caputo, and Shawn Oakman appear to have mutual interest with PSU (and a hundred other schools). Oakman was reportedly ready to pull the trigger for PSU a few weeks ago, but it never happened and he's visiting Pitt this weekend ($).
Penn State's coaches are no strangers to recruiting in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey, and many other mid-Atlantic states, but signs of recruiting life are difficult to discern on those horizons, as well. The PSU coaching staff told five-star RB Recruit Savon Huggins that he was their only and only true love, and wouldn't even recruit another running back. He's still playing the field. Marquis Wright, a defensive tackle considered to be one of Penn State's top targets for this class, just committed to Pitt. Virginia, North Carolina, Rutgers, and Pitt are all nudging Penn State out for recruits. Yes, it's not even July. I know. Still, cries of "it's just one player" and "stars are irrelevant" are ringing more hollow by the day.
Honestly, what's the deal here? Last year, Mike Hull and Paul Jones were early, five-star headliners for what snowballed into a very successful recruiting class. Coming off a 11-2 season capped by a victory over an SEC team in a New Year's Day bowl, and holding a very limited amount of scholarships, shouldn't this be a relatively easy recruiting job for Penn State? The late Brad Bars offer and committment in late January was a little weird. In May, the mystery Canadian offensive tackle totally came out of nowhere. And since then? Another relatively unknown player, after Penn State fanned on Ben Koyack.
Joe Paterno has been ill for a while. We all know this. His unavailability has resulted in many consequences -- cancelling the "Evening With Joe" events across the state, renewed speculation about his health and ability to lead the program, and so on. One drastically underreported problem is the effect his health could be having on recruiting. Not because he doesn't leave Happy Valley to visit recruits (nothing new there), but because he's having difficulty meeting the local demands of the job. Months ago, recruits were complaining that they were told written offers were forthcoming, but Penn State was lazy in actually following through on their promises. Now, with "Evening With Joe" events being cancelled and newspapers asking Graham Spanier for quotes on Joe's health, those recruiters who have been trying in vain for decades to use Paterno's age and health against him finally have some factual support for their assertions. We all know that he's been pining for a championship run in 2011 like the rest of us (though we'll see how the soon-to-be scrambled Big Ten schedule shakes out), but it's time to face the distinct possibility that this really could be Joe Paterno's last season (yes, just like every season).
There may or may not be actual weakness at the top of the chain -- who could know, outside of the Lasch Building? -- but there must certainly be a perceived weakness noted throughout the college football community. Opposing coaches sense it on the recruiting trail. Recruits and their parents can't help noticing their potential head coach struggling to meet simple, glad-handing social engagements. For years, Penn State has overachieved by essentially recruiting with five or six coaches. Paterno and Galen Hall admit to not wanting to leave Happy Valley unless absolutely necessary, others on the staff participate very lightly in recruiting. Meanwhile, the remainder of the coaching staff is busting their butts against all odds. Think about it -- how can a major football program successfully recruit without its head coach and offensive coordinator doing anything? Yet Penn State fought on, landing what most considered to be the best recruiting class in the conference last year. Imagine what a coaching staff operating at full capacity would be able to accomplish, given the program's history, reputation, academic success, and facilities.
Any rational analysis of this season's schedule leads one to believe that the chance of a "lightning in a bottle" season to prop up the recruiting effort will be remote, at best. The way Penn State's targets are drying up, a surprise ten or eleven win season might be too late, anyway. It's not even July and, admittedly, players decommit from other schools every year (see Shawney Kersey, Gerald Hodges, Michael Shaw, Pat Devlin, etc.). Still, it's officially time to be concerned about not only recruiting, but also the future of the program. Confront it with whatever emotion and cocktail you deem appropriate.