With a mere 360-odd days to go until the Class of 2013 commitments sign their letters of intent and a college football nation once again hangs on the penstrokes of a group of 18-year old recruits, it is time to take a way-too-early look at the makeup of that class, from a Nittany Lion perspective.
Predicting who will be in the class a full year ahead of time is a fruitless endeavor, unless you're a fan of one of the roughly thirty teams that already has at least one verbally committed recruit (Penn State does not fall on this list). But predicting how many players in each position group is made somewhat easier by taking a look at who is leaving and what the remaining depth chart looks like.
On Their Way Out
Fourteen players enter the 2012 season in their senior or redshirt senior season, and with the slim exception of Michael Mauti, who could potentially make a case for a medical waiver, they'll all be heading on to greener pastures by the time the Class of 2013 signs next February.
Last week, Penn State signed 19 recruits to the Class of 2012 (technically, 1 signed to the Class of 2011 and 18 signed to the Class of 2012), which took the football scholarship total to 84 (one below the NCAA maximum). When these 14 players depart after this season, the scholarship number will sit at 70, giving Penn State an allotment of 15 available scholarships for the Class of 2013.
Or will it? Included in that list of 70 are the remaining players from the relatively large signing class in 2009. Some of these players have contributed little to nothing on the field, even if they are great teammates and persons off of it. If they don't make an impact in 2012, there is a distinct possibility they will be urged to move on rather than return for a fifth year on the football team. Talented players behind the following guys are pushing for time, and gone is the idea that seniority trumps talent, in a close call at least.
It's a difficult proposition, asking players to forgo their final year of eligibility for the good of the team. But at the same time, the coaching staff is in the business of putting the highest quality product on the field, and competing at the highest levels means having the ability to recruit the highest caliber player. With an extra 5-8 openings, the Class of 2013 could go from relatively small to rather large, and fill many holes on the depth chart.
"But couldn't they simply recruit that top talent to the fewer spots available?" Well, yes. But additional openings, especially given a couple of down years on the recruiting trail by Penn State standards, will go a long way in the long run to bring this team to consistently challenging the conference, and national, elite.
On Their Way In
So where does that put the Penn State Class of 2013? Seeing as how I'll be referencing these predictions almost every week for the next year, a lot of research and thought was put into them. However, given the fickle nature of recruiting, it was also necessary to hedge some bets and put a larger range on some positions. Obviously, by no means are these numbers hard and fast; rather, they are meant to be a rough guide as to what the Class of 2013 will likely look like in February of next year.
(All players currently on roster will be assumed to still be here in 2013. Thus, the numbers could potentially add up to more than 85. Additionally, some educated guesses have been made as to class eligibility of freshmen; classes shown represent where the player will be after the 2012 season.)
Overall Class Size: 15-22
Quarterback: 1-2 (Gone: Matt McGloin; Left: Rob Bolden (SR), Paul Jones (RSJR), Steven Bench (RSFR))
Look for one elite quarterback to be taken in this class, and there are already a number of highly rated prospects being targeted, including one you'll meet later this week; the staff could stop there, and it would be successful, but they may also add some insurance at the position. However, I'm of the opinion that one quarterback should be taken each class, not taking two, then none for a couple of year, and so on.
Running Back: 1-2 (Gone: Michael Zordich; Left: Silas Redd (SR), Curtis Dukes (RSSR), Zach Zwinak (RSSO), Akeel Lynch (SO)
This position will already be slightly thin, but if Coach Bill O'Brien brings an offense that even slightly resembles that of the one in Foxboro, the fullback use will taper off significantly. If one running back is taken in the Class of 2013, that would give Penn State five backs, with enough separation to be comfortable. There are a good number of top backs in the regular Penn State recruiting grounds, so getting a premier back isn't too tall of an order. However, if the staff misses on a couple high profile backs, then signing two backs becomes more likely, for depth purposes.
Wide Receiver: 1-3 (Gone: Justin Brown, Devon Smith; Left: 12 receivers, across the eligibility spectrum)
This position, above all others, is where the numbers will be watched closely. There are potential position changes for some of the younger players, a chance that some of the older guys won't be back the following year, and a new receiving coach. All of these things will affect how Penn State recruits the wide receiver position. The number one receiver in the country in the Class of 2013 hails from western Pennsylvania, but that will be a tough pull from Ohio State or the SEC, from what I hear. Beyond that, the staff will likely take at least one receiver to replace the two departing starters; but that number's growth will be directly tied to 2012 production and depth chart shifting.
Tight End: 0-1 (Gone: None; Left: Garry Gilliam (RSSR), Kevin Haplea (SR), Kyle Carter (RSSO), Jesse James (RSFR), Brent Wilkerson (RSFR))
This one is easy...Adam Breneman or nothing. Breneman is the kind of player you make room for, and is also the kind of player that Penn State needs to get to State College. He is a five-star, in-state talent that could end up being one of the best recruiters for the Class of 2013 (think pre-scandal Cam Williams).
Offensive Line: 4-6 (Gone: Mike Farrell, Matt Stankiewitch; Left: 14 linemen, across the eligibility spectrum)
Projecting offensive linemen is the hardest thing to do for staffs in terms of recruiting. Penn State only took one offensive lineman in the Class of 2012, though some of the defensive linemen could see a switch to offense. In this class, Coach Mac McWhorter will likely be looking for a top offensive tackle, preferably a right tackle to serve opposite Donovan Smith. The interior needs some help as well, so look for two or three guards/centers to be taken in this class.
Defensive Tackle: 1-2 (Gone: Jordan Hill, James Terry; Left: DaQuan Jones (SR), Luke Graham (RSJR), Evan Hailes (RSJR), Anthony Zettel (RSSO), Anthony Alosi (RSSO), Derek Dowrey (RSFR), Brian Gaia (RSFR), Austin Johnson (RSFR), Jamil Pollard (RSFR))
Larry Johnson likes to rotate rather extensively, so keeping this and the next position (DE) well stocked is a must. With four DTs taken in 2012 (though you can probably bank on at least one of them sliding outside, or swapping to the OL), this isn't a high position of need in the Class of 2013. There are a couple highly rated prospects in the PA/NJ area, but if Penn State happens to miss on them, the class won't suffer. Even if the staff decides not to take a defensive tackle in this class, the position is strong for a couple of years.
Defensive End: 2-3 (Gone: Pete Massaro, Sean Stanley; Left: Brad Bars (RSJR), Kyle Baublitz (RSJR), C.J. Olaniyan (RSJR), Deion Barnes (RSSO), Jordan Kerner (RSSO), Shawn Oakman (RSSO), Evan Schwan (RSFR))
Like the interior of the line, both starters at this position will be gone after 2012, so finding replacements is a top priority. Those replacements will come from players already on the team, but adding depth to that list is important in 2013. The DE production at Penn State has fallen off a bit in recent years, so targeting an elite pass rusher will be important for Johnson and Ted Roof's defensive recruiting strategy.
Linebacker: 2-3 (Gone: Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges, Mike Yancich; Left: Glenn Carson (SR), Khairi Fortt (SR), Mike Hull (RSJR), Dakota Royer (RSJR), Ben Kline (RSSO), Nyeem Wartman (RSFR))
Only six returning linebackers, two of whom will be seniors, is cause for slight concern. Taking at least two linebackers in this class should be a priority, slightly behind taking a top QB. The normal Penn State recruiting grounds have some quality linebackers, so the staff doesn't need to travel far to get top talent. However, with the new national approach to recruiting, it'll be interesting to see who else the staff goes after at this position.
Defensive Back: 3-4 (Gone: Stephon Morris; Left: Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (RSSR), Malcolm Willis (RSSR), Derrick Thomas (RSSR), Mike Wallace (RSSR), DaQuan Davis (SO), Jake Kiley (RSFR), Jordan Lucas (RSFR))
You can probably add at least two more players to this list, as Class of 2012 members Trevor Williams and Malik Golden were recruited as wide receivers, but will probably make the shift to the secondary. The class is very young, and despite taking a large number of DBs in 2012, cornerback and safety are once again positions of great need in 2013. Penn State missed out on taking the shutdown corner it needs when Armani Reeves flipped to Ohio State, so that will be a recruiting story to watch.
Special Teams: 0-1 (Gone: No one; Left: Anthony Fera (RSSR), Sam Ficken (JR))
Getting a kicker will be a need, but whether the staff uses a scholarship on one is the question here. Penn State fans saw what a difference a scholarship kicker can make when Anthony Fera was finally let out of the Paterno Doghouse in 2011, replacing struggling Evan Lewis. Fera also handled punting duties, but it's unclear who will handle what in 2012.