There are plenty of ways to gauge the overall success of a college football recruiting year. Some look to see the number of top 50 or 100 players in a class. Some look at whether a team has managed to reel in top quarterback recruit, given the emphasis on offense that has permeated the college game in recent years. Some, like Scout/Fight on State's Mark Brennan, look at the overall quality and quantity of recruits in a particular class. In fact, Brennan told Devon Edwards today that it is going to be somewhat difficult to evaluate Penn State's recruiting moving forward.
[i]t 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.
Me? I don't evaluate college recruiting classes in the same manner that major outlets like Rivals, Scout, and 24/7 Sports do. I've always found it difficult to compare classes against each other. After all, each team has its own needs and its own issues. Why recruit a quarterback, no matter how much it helps you in the rankings, if you already have 4 scholarship quarterbacks on your roster? Why be downgraded for filling a scholarship with an elite kicker (max of 3 stars, generally) when depth isn't a concern elsewhere?
With all due respect to Rivals, Scout, and 24/7, who do a remarkable job covering hundreds of teams and thousands upon thousands of potential recruits, my interests are much narrower. I don't much care if Penn State pulls in twenty eight recruits every year. What I do care about is whether Penn State has filled its needs appropriately.
So, with all that said, how'd we do?
Oddly enough (and striking a somewhat contradictory tone), the first thing Penn State needed in the wake of sanctions were bodies. They didn't need a full twenty eight (28) player class (and good thing, since they were prohibited by the always impressive and never unethical NCAA), but they did need to ensure that they were able to meet the full 75-player scholarship limit that would be imposed for the 2013-14 season. By any measure, this was an unmitigated success. Including early enrollees, Penn State's 2013 recruiting class consisted of seventeen (17) players, which was exactly what was necessary.
Even prior to the sanctions, Penn State had considerable depth issues at defensive back. After the 2012 season and senior class graduations, those issues expanded to quarterback (record setter Matt McGloin and backup Shane McGregor graduate, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones transfer), tailback (Number 25 transfers, Curtis Dukes prepares to transfer, Michael Zordich graduates), defensive tackle (Jordan Hill and James Terry graduate), and linebacker (Mr. Penn State Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, and special teams captain Mike Yancich graduate, freshman Nyeem Wartman receives medical redshirt for unspecified knee injury).
Out of those positions, some needs were more dire than others. For instance, after the Wisconsin game, the sole scholarship quarterback on the roster was 2013 sophomore Steven Bench. The defensive backs lost emotional leader Stephon Morris and walk-on leader Jacob Fagnano, leaving Adrian Amos, Da'Quan Davis, and Jesse Della Valle as the only corners with any experience whatsoever.
Nothing went better for the Nittany Lions this year than quarterback recruiting. Despite losing Junior College All-American Jake Waters to Kansas State at the last minute, Penn State signed the second best JUCO quarterback in America, Tyler Ferguson, and the nation's top high school quarterback prospect in Christian Hackenberg. That position is now covered for the next several years. Penn State also did very well with defensive backs in the class of 2013 - the Nittany Lions signed safeties Neiko Robinson out of Florida and Kasey Gaines out of Georgia, and two early enrollees at corner who will see valuable time in spring practice, Anthony and Jordan Smith.
Tailback recruiting was less successful. Penn State recruited Philadelphia's David Williams hard, and he appeared on the verge of committing early last summer. The sanctions handed down took the Nittany Lions out of the running, as Williams signed with South Carolina today. Penn State failed to recruit a true tailback in this class (early enrollee Richy Anderson is closer to a slot receiver than tailback), and will count on the addition of redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch to provide needed depth in the rotation for the coming year. Penn State has, however, gotten off to a strong start at running back for the 2014 class, as DeMatha Catholic's Mark Allen has already committed.
Linebacker recruiting looked to be complete until the very last minute. Penn State had already received a commitment from three-star prospect Brandon Bell, and in early-December received commitments from Central Dauphin athlete Zayd Issah (who will play linebacker at the next level) and Jonathan Walton, a three-star middle linebacker from Alabama. Walton's decommitment in January was unfortunate, and leaves Penn State scrambling to cover depth. Unless the staff has found quality run-ons to fill in holes in the depth chart, both Issah and Bell seem likely to be thrown into the fire early.
Overall, Penn State did well with the scholarships that they were allotted. Bill O'Brien's first full recruiting class was a success.
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