Today,a dozen high school seniors will sign on the dotted line, pledging their allegiance to the Nittany Lions. It's a motley crew, dotted with a handful of blue-chip prospects and replete with some under-the-radar kids the staff hopes will be diamonds in the rough. Some come from the traditional pipelines of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and Virginia, others reflect a newfound national recruiting philosophy. But no matter what the path they took to this point, they're all Penn Staters now.
And that means we can now transition from stargazing to considering the implications of a restocked roster. Now that it's no longer a hypothetical, but a done deal, we can look at what this class means for Penn State moving forward. And for that, we brought in Mark Brennan--who is, if you're not already aware, the Editor and Publisher of Fight On State, the Scout.com affiliate for Penn State. We thank Mark for his insight, and remember to check out Fight On State for coverage of Penn State's recruiting year-round.
Black Shoe Diaries: This year, Penn State made significant inroads recruiting the south, and a lot of that was credited to the influence Ted Roof. How much will his departure affect that new focus?
Mark Brennan: I'm sure it will have some impact because Roof was well connected in the South. But there are still several coaches on the staff with extensive experience recruiting the region, including Stan Hixon, Mac McWhorter and John Butler. And remember, Bill O’Brien was an assistant at Georgia Tech, so he knows the region. Overall, just getting back involved in the region — no matter who was or is doing the recruiting — has been important for Penn State.
BSD: Obviously, the big names in this class (Hackenberg and Breneman) committed before the NCAA sanctions were handed down. What did the rest of the class prove about Bill O'Brien's ability to bring in more blue-chip prospects?
MB: The class in general should give fans hope that O’Brien and the staff will do well moving forward. This was a worst-case scenario, with the Sandusky scandal and NCAA sanctions. To survive it with a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten class is every bit as impressive as what Penn State did on the field last fall. Moving forward, the sanctions should have less and less of an impact on recruiting. As it stands, all of the players in this class who redshirt will be eligible to play in two bowls.
BSD: What was the greatest need heading into this class? How did O'Brien and staff do in filling it? With the reduced scholarships, where is the team going to be especially thin?
MB: Obviously quarterback was the biggest need. With Matt McGloin graduating, and Rob Bolden and Paul Jones both transferring, Steven Bench was the only scholarship QB left. They quickly addressed that by landing junior college passer Tyler Ferguson, who enrolled in January. Hackenberg will arrive in June. There are bunch of new run-ons in the mix, too. The team was really thin at defensive back last season, and the staff attempted to address that by bringing in four DBs with this class. But I'm not sure any of them is prepared to make an instant impact in 2013.
BSD: A lot has been made recently of the run-on players committing to Penn State: Do you have any insight as to how the staff has looked to hand out these preferred walk-on spots?
MB: From what I can gather, it is pretty much the same sorting out process that goes on with scholarship recruits. They are looking for kids who fit what O'Brien and his staff are doing on the field, and who have the ability to cut it academically at Penn State. The primary difference, obviously, is that the run-ons also have to have the ability to cover tuition.
BSD: Given the circumstances, how would you grade this recruiting class as a whole? What is Penn State's ceiling moving forward?
MB: Under ordinary circumstances, I'd rate this class a "C." But these clearly are not ordinary circumstances. When the NCAA sanctions came down last July, I wondered if the staff would be able to convince ANY top prospects to sign with the program. Given all that, I'll give the effort an "A-." In terms of a ceiling moving forward, it is going to be difficult to judge Penn State's recruiting effort against the rest of the Big Ten because most rating systems value quality AND quantity. So with only 15 scholarships available for the next few years, the goal should be to remain in the middle of the pack.
BSD: As we transition to the 2014 recruiting class, how do you think Penn State is positioned for next year?
MB: O'Brien and his staff have already spent significant time on the road talking to the coaches of current high school juniors and sophomores. Having the head coach involved in this process is a dramatic change from the previous staff. In recent years, Joe Paterno was not even getting out on the road to visit the schools of senior prospects.
Thanks again, Mark. And remember to read Fight On State for all your recruiting needs.