Unless you’ve been under a large rock, or otherwise unfortunate enough to not have Internet access for the last few days, you are certainly aware of Penn State’s current perch near the top of the national football recruiting rankings. While that is surely subject to change as the majority of the country’s top prospects wait until closer to Signing Day to commit to Alabama, the proof of James Franklin’s recruiting prowess is in the proverbial pudding.
Penn State fans have, of course, reacted with predictable jubilation, and, in some corners, shock. Rivals such as Ohio State, Michigan
and Rutgers have reacted with equally as predictable disdain, laughable justifications….and yes, shock.
Even prior to the storm that engulfed Happy Valley nearly 30 months ago, there is no argument that Penn State was recruiting at a fraction of the level it should have been. Multiple assistants put in limited effort, and Joe Paterno stopped traveling to meet with prospects. Once considered one of the greatest "closers" among collegiate coaches, PSU’s best weapon was holstered. Bill O’Brien’s hiring provide a glimpse, however brief, of what Penn State could do on the recruiting trail; the early commitments to the Class of 2013 of course included Christian Hackenberg, Adam Breneman, Garrett Sickels, and Brendan Mahon. O’Brien had also landed commitments from Dorian Johnson, a 5-star offensive lineman, and Ross Douglas, a 4-star defensive back. In the wake of the sanctions, both players decommitted, and ended up at Pitt and Michigan, respectively.
Enter James Franklin. From the second he arrived in State College in January, Coach Franklin’s singular focus has been selling the Penn State football program to anyone and everyone, but primarily the next generation of Nittany Lions.The number of 2014 signees that flipped from Vanderbilt to PSU is testament enough to how adept Franklin is at not only selling his program, but building strong relationships with recruits and families alike--top 25 recruiting classes at perennial SEC doormat Vanderbilt show just as much. Now, he’s armed with Penn State’s history, tradition, and world-class facilities.
That combination is something Penn State fans have not seen for perhaps 15 years or more. If you’re a younger fan of the program, or like me didn’t become a big fan until more recently, then you are likely in the same boat as our neighbors in Ohio and Michigan. There are certain programs, like those in Columbus and Ann Arbor, that have certain built-in advantages with facilities, fan bases, and natural recruiting hot beds. Penn State has always been one of those, but in recent memory has not done much with those advantages. I have been saying for years, as have many others, that when Paterno left the sidelines, PSU would see a renaissance of sorts on the recruiting trail.
Naturally, the wins will need to follow sooner or later. Time will tell on that, and while Franklin’s on-field success may be a topic for another day, but keep in mind that he took a VU program with 25 wins in the 6 seasons prior to his arrival, and won 24 in three, including 6 wins and a bowl trip in his first season in Nashville with a roster that won 2 games each of the previous 2 seasons.
For the time being, however, don’t expect this recruiting momentum to slow down. The playing field is still not even with overall scholarships, or post season opportunities, but Franklin has shown that doesn’t matter. As the remainder of the sanctions either expire or are reduced, and presumably wins come, Penn State is positioned to continue their recruiting tear.