College football recruiting is my guilty pleasure.
Ever since James Franklin was hired, and started reeling in top-notch prospects that usually did not choose Penn State, I was hooked. It’s basically year-round free agency and it culminated officially on Wednesday, Feb.3, National Signing Day.
It’s the third recruiting class for Franklin and Co. at Penn State since he was hired and it’s a pretty good one. As far as meaningless grades go, I’d give it a B.
There’s five-star running back Miles Sanders, who when combined with sophomore Saquan Barkley and redshirt freshman Andre Robinson, gives Penn State arguably the most talented backfield of my lifetime.
Another significant influx of talent on the offensive line will help pave the way for Barkley, Sanders, Robinson and others over the next three to four years. And hopefully keep the quarterback, whoever that is, upright longer than Christian Hackenberg. Five-star Michel Menet and four-star Connor McGovern seem like two of the safest bets for steady contribution in the entire class.
Five-star defensive end Shane Simmons should bring needed pass rush help to a defensive line losing three very good starters. Simmons, along with Sanders, both committed in July 2014 and for Franklin and Co. to hang on to them all the way through February 2016 is impressive.
But yet, it could have been much better.
Penn State had several key commitments including two defensive tackles, arguably the team’s biggest need area right now. Losing Karamo Dioboute, a Philly kid, was particularly hard since that is supposed to be a layup for Penn State.
Three of the decommitments flipped to Michigan and a top target for quite some time, Khaleke Hudson chose the Wolverines as well. By several accounts it seems like he was ready to pledge to Penn State back in the fall or summer, but do to a number of commits in the fold, plus uncertainty as to what position he could play were reasons Penn State may have told him they couldn’t take his commitment.
Long story short, space eventually opened up, Penn State would’ve gladly taken Hudson, but he decided to head to Ann Arbor. Personally that stinks. If you offer a kid, just take his commitment. Yeah, he could back out, but it’s more likely he doesn’t. Offering a kid a scholarship but then not allowing him to commit,
At his introductory press conference in January 2014, Franklin said he would “Dominate the State” and to a large degree he’s done that.
Penn State had seven of the top 10 in 2015 and 9 of the top 15 per 247sports. This year they finished with three in the top 10 after losing safety Andrew Pryts and Dioubate. In fact, they only had four in the top 20. In the current 247 rankings for 2017, two of the top five players in Pennsylvania are committed elsewhere.
Penn State still was able to fill out the class with solid recruits, but none of the four or five star variety. And I’m ok with that. I like getting prospects who are under recruited and have a chip on their shoulder. I also want to see how this coaching staff develops lower rated prospects. We know they can recruit. But how well can they coach and develop players is a major question every Penn State football fans frequently asks.
Recruiting is certainly frustrating, like when Michigan plunders four Penn State commits or targets in a week’s span, Or just when a recruit recommits in general. It’s absurd that I actually care about where a high schooler wants to play football as it’s arguably the most important decision of their young career.
There’s probably merits to an early signing period, but I don’t have there recruiting acumen to delve into the pros and cons. Watching kids flip or commit too early just shouldn’t happen as frequently as it does. I put most of that blame on the college football landscape and the big money donors at some schools who, ahem, can influence Coaches have to flout elite signing classes as early as possible, just like they have to strive for an ideal win-loss record.
To his credit, Franklin has the program off to another great start on the recruiting trail for the 2017 and 2018 classes. But February 2017 and 2018 are a long way away. There will of course be flips and decommitments as there are every year, but hopefully Penn State can win enough games and maybe pull off a huge upset that will reduce the amount of commits that choose to look elsewhere.
Recruiting is important, and I’ll continue to monitor it when there are substantial recruiting events for Penn State, like junior day or the Blue-White game. But most importantly, I’ll be keeping a close eye on how this revamped coaching staff tries to take this rebuilding program to the next level.
Other Penn State thoughts since the season ended:
* Thank you, Christian Hackenberg and best of luck in the NFL. Obviously the three years here could have been better, but many unfortunately variables were working against him. He’ll go down as one of the best quarterbacks Penn State has ever had and I will enjoy watching him. I certainly wish he had attained more success, but maybe it awaits him in the NFL.
*The Joe Moorhead hire is an intriguing one and the outside-the-box type hire needed to reinvigorate the offensive side of the ball after two years of just flat-out bad offense. It will be interesting to see it translate from the FCS to the Big Ten, and it surely will take some getting used too. It will probably not be Oregon-like right out of the gate or at all in this season but I appreciate James Franklin’s ability to think differently. Hiring a respected offensive mind who also has head coaching experience can only benefit the program.
* People leave for other job opportunities all the time. That’s just the way life is. I wasn’t mad at Silas Redd when he left when the scandal hit and I didn’t dislike Bill O’Brien for heading to the NFL. But Bob Shoop leaving for Tennessee, a so-so program in the SEC just really rankled me. Here’s a guy who’s from Oakmont, PA, who flirted with leaving Penn State last year only to get a nice salary bump and pledge allegiance to the school right after the new contract. But one year later he now decides to take a lateral move for more money. I just don’t get it, but obviously stuff happened behind the scenes. I don’t care how good of a coordinator he is, I won’t miss him.
I didn’t see much of the TaxSlayer Bowl, but from the little I did see and from what I read about afterwards, I am cautiously optimistic for the Trace McSorley era. The kid just seems like a gamer who can make plays running or passing, which is presumably what this new offense will require.