Penn State Football: National Recruiting Guru Lemming Predicts Nittany Lions Will Rebound in 5 Years
Nationally renowned recruiting guru Tom Lemming has heard about all the predicted gloom and doom in Happy Valley.
After the harsh NCAA sanctions issued against Penn State two days ago, who hasn’t?
The Nittany Lions were dealt a four-year bowl ban and a reduction of 10 scholarships per year for a similar time frame.
It wasn’t quite the death penalty, but it was a mighty kick to the gut for a once-proud football program.
Several experts believe Penn State will face long-lasting recruiting issues and won’t be competitive again for more than a decade. And yet there are others who question whether the football program will ever recover from the tragedy related to former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse scandal.
But not Lemming, who has been one of college football's top recruiting experts for decades.
When he sorts through the harsh penalties and looks ahead, he sees something that beleaguered Nittany Lions' fans will like:
A bright future.
“Five years from now, I am 100 percent sure everyone will be talking about the resurrection of Penn State football,” Lemming told me on Tuesday. “I really believe that.
“And a few years after that, I think they’ll work their way back up to being a national championship contender again.”
Lemming, an analyst for CBS Sports, does agree that the next two years will be very hard on first-year coach Bill O’Brien in regards to recruiting.
“The one key word in recruiting is always perception,” Lemming said. “And right now the perception of Penn State is at rock bottom. Weathering the storm the first two years is a big challenge for Bill. Two years from now, it will all be forgotten. Well, it will never be forgotten, but people will start moving on.
“By the third year, those Class of 2015 kids could come in, be redshirted that first year, then play in four bowl games. And by the fifth year, Bill should be ready to hit a grand slam.
“After the four-year ban is over, that fifth year, if they can go 6-6 — which I think they will have a real good shot of doing — they would go to a bowl game. The bowl committee people, knowing how well Penn State travels, will be falling all over them to get Penn State, especially since at that point it should be evident what they have done to change their perception.
“Penn State’s got great facilities. They got great tradition. They are a powerhouse program. They got a great student body, great academics. It’s just going to take time to heal.”
O’Brien has been talking daily to his recruits who have verbally committed for the future, including highly regarded tight end Adam Breneman and quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who both remain in the Class of 2013 for now.
O’Brien has been promoting a chance to get a great education; the opportunity to play in front of 108,000 fans on TV in Beaver Stadium; to play in “six or seven bowl games a year” at home against quality opponents; and a chance to develop into an NFL prospect.
“I think if coach O’Brien can keep his players on the team right now focused and staying loyal to Penn State, and keep the top guys that are still in the recruiting class, they will be fine,” Lemming said.
“Obviously, Penn State's penalties are different than USC’s, but they’re somewhat similar in that USC had a two-year bowl ban and lost 30 scholarships (over three years). USC has overcome that. They’re No. 1 in recruiting right now and they haven’t skipped a beat.”
Penn State, which could lose some key players through transfers, also is facing the prospect to having to deal with no more than 65 scholarship players for four years while their opponents will have 85.
Lemming believes the school should give O’Brien a contract extension even before he works his first game. He has a five-year contract worth a guaranteed $2.3 million per season through January 2017, but his team is facing a four-year postseason ban.
I asked O'Brien Tuesday if that is enough time to work his magic, given all the sanctions.
“I'm the type of person that doesn't worry about contracts too much,” he said. “I'm just really concerning myself about doing the best job I can every day. I'm really committed to this football team. I told our players that.
“At the end of the day, I'm out here to do the best job I can for Penn State and for the players and the coaching staff. That's what I try to do every day.”
That predicted doom and gloom?
For now, at least O’Brien and Lemming can see a ray of hope.