I count myself among those who believe that Penn State has been a sleeping giant since the mid-90s. A veritable, bona fide national championship contender that, for various reasons, has gone mostly dormant since the likes of Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter walked the field. There have been good seasons since then, of course, but nothing at a consistently high level; the team has been a roller coaster for the better part of two decades.
I personally put a lot of stock in recruiting. I realize that not all people weigh STARZ as much as others, but to me, the fact that we've had smallish classes with just a tiny handful of highly ranked players runs exactly concurrently with how the team has done on the field.
Of course coaching is a massive part of any player's development, and I've had faith in the vast majority of our coaches (head coaches on down to position coaches). But the fact of the matter is it's much easier to mold a talented kid than to try to elevate a less-talented kid to the same level. And I do realize that highly-rated kids can be busts, and that unranked kids can become major college football stars. But statistically, both of these categories are outliers.
So, given that Dear Old State has seen its recruiting dip pretty significantly overall over the last 20 years, I'm more than excited about what James Franklin and Co. are doing right now. His aggressiveness on the recruiting trail is one that I, personally, am unfamiliar with, and welcome gladly.
The 2015 recruiting class currently stands at 15 players. Word on the street is that, despite scholarship restrictions, the coaching staff is looking to take the full allotment of 25 players with this signing class, and then figure out where to make up the scholarship differences down the road, assuming the sanctions remain in place.
Given that Franklin has spent time in the SEC, and that he and his staff will be guest coaching at camps at Georgia State and Stetson this summer, do you foresee any southern recruits coming north to play? I'm not sold on any kids coming up this year - much as I'd love to start a southern pipeline, I still think the sanctions are going to keep some kids away.
However, if CJF can keep up the national branding, and draw in highly ranked (read: top 10 to top 5) classes the next couple years, I see that translating to success on the field. Even assuming the sanctions stay in place, I honestly believe that PSU can compete for a B1G championship (and thus a spot in the college football playoff) in 2016.
On offense, Hackenberg will be a senior if he stays, a 4-year starter. The young, inexperienced WRs will be seasoned vets by then. Breneman would also be a highly ranked 4-year TE. Our OL worries will have been solved by the glut of VHT recruits. An impressive stable of RBs. I tell you, I'm salivating about what our offense will be able to do if even the majority of our current players stay through 2016.
On defense, LBU will be back on top with the likes of Troy Reeder and Kamonte Carter (and perhaps even Manny Bowen) playing. DL always seems set to reload, and my hope is to always have a couple DEs to rush off the edge, with at least one DaQuan Jones-style DT in the middle (Tarow Barney or Adam McLean perhaps?). Give me Koa Farmer, John Reid and perhaps even Jordan Whitehead in the secondary, and I'm convinced our defense can be top ten. Assuming CJF and Co. also push special teams with their best players, I see a complete team that can and will compete for not just the B1G, but that crystal football as well.
But here's the thing: my hope is that a we have a decent season this year (7-5 or better, which is certainly attainable), a good season next year (thinking 9-3 optimistically), and then a run at the CFB championship in 2016. If we have such a succession of good seasons, coupled with Franklin's time in the SEC and any guest coaching the staff can do around the country, I believe it will lead to the best players nationwide becoming more and more interested in PSU. I still want to dominate the state and the region, but give me your Byron Cowarts, your Iman Marshalls, your Trenton Thompsons. I honestly see PSU football becoming self-sustaining as a perennial top-5 team, a la Alabama.
So tell me: are these delusions of grandeur or are they feasibly great results one could expect over the next few years and beyond?
*Edit - Removed Josh Barajas from LBU discussion. Though here's hoping he ultimately flips back!