Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
NATIONAL SIGNING DAY 2013
Penn State's class: Great shot from difficult position Penn State's class: Great shot from difficult position
STATE COLLEGE -- There are two contexts from which to view Penn State's 2013 football recruiting class.
One, of course, has to do with the NCAA sanctions that limit the program in recruiting more than any other area.
Grading on that curve, Bill O'Brien and his staff aced the exam that was National Signing Day.
"I think this is overall a great day for Penn State University,'' O'Brien said after he secured letters-of-intent from 12 members of the high school class of 2013.
Five other members of the class enrolled at Penn State last month, and therefore did not need to sign Wednesday.
"We want to put together a big, fast, physical football team that can play in all kinds of weather,'' O'Brien said. "I think we did that.''
Owing to the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal, Penn State can sign only 15 players per year, and can have no more than 65 total players on scholarship, through 2016.
"In that context, it's remarkable, the class they were able to put together,'' Allen Trieu, who analyzes recruiting for Fox Sports, said Wednesday morning.
Problem: Scoreboards don't grade on a curve, and the Nittany Lions still expect to compete nationally, and particularly with Ohio State, Michigan, et. al. in the Big Ten Conference.
Trieu said he was ranking Ohio State's class number one not only in the Big Ten but also the country, and Michigan No. 2, as of Wednesday morning.
Penn State, he expected, would end the day fourth or fifth in the conference, and somewhere in the 35-45 range nationally.
"Naturally, Ohio State and Michigan, on the next 2-4 years, are going to be able to put a lot of talent on the field,'' Trieu said. "But I would point out that the Big Ten championship game this year was Wisconsin against Nebraska, two programs that don't really recruit nationally.''
Whether or not Penn State recruits nationally is an interesting question. O'Brien says he wants to dominate the region within a roughly six-hour drive of State College, and 13 of the 17 recruits -- five of them Pennsylvanians -- meet that rough standard.
The rest are from Georgia, California, and Alabama.
The stars of the class, at least in terms of national profile, are Christian Hackenberg, a quarterback from Fork Union, Va., and Adam Breneman, a tight end from Cedar Cliff High in the Harrisburg area. Hackenberg is considered the top "pro-style'' QB in the class nationally. Breneman is a "five-star'' prospect, despite missing his senior season with a torn knee ligament.
Hackenberg and Breneman are also leaders within the class, especially among a group of 6-8 recruits who committed to O'Brien before the sanctions were announced in July.
That group apparently communicates constantly and has maintained a solidarity message sent via social and conventional media.
When the sanctions were announced, O'Brien acknowledged, that group and their parents drove to State College for a meeting with the coach in the same room where Wednesday's press conference was held.
"It was an interesting day,'' O'Brien admitted. "I stood here and probably answered 50-75 questions ... it was very emotional.
"Our whole staff was here. It was an honest, tough, emotional but very productive meeting. That was a very important day for us.''
O'Brien said eight players were there that day and seven stayed committed. The eighth -- although O'Brien declined to name him -- was Will Fuller, a wide receiver from Philadelphia who committed to Notre Dame about a week later.
O'Brien said there are 90 players on the current roster, not counting the 12 signees who'll enroll in June. He said he's likely to add 12-13 "run-on'' players -- walk-on is the more familiar term but not O'Brien's -- some of whom would enroll in June, some when the fall semester begins in August.
A group of 33 high school players, mostly from Pennsylvania, attended a "Run-on Day,'' at which they met with coaches and toured the facilities, last month.
Two former run-ons who have earned scholarships: Matt Lehman, a fourth-year junior tight end who started some games last year, and third-year sophomore safety Ryan Keiser, who played on special teams.
Of the major recruiting services, Penn State fared best with ESPN, which ranked the Lions' class 24th nationally and fourth in the Big Ten. At the other end was Scout.com (Fox), which ranked Penn State 44th, and seventh (and behind Indiana) in the league.
nGiven the limitations imposed upon them by the NCAA, O'Brien and his staff earned high marks. The unanswered question is how well those marks will transition onto the turf in Beaver Stadium.