Penn State Football: Final Spots in 2014 Recruiting Class Key for Future Success
Don't tell Bill O'Brien that his football program has been sanctioned by the NCAA. Penn State's 2014 recruiting class stands up against some of the best in the nation and having the consensus 2013 national coach of the year at the helm isn't hurting that standing.
With 11 verbal commitments so far, three are rated as four-star recruits by Rivals.com and the rest are three-stars. While the true value of a star ranking is the subject of a continuing debate there is no denying that O'Brien is attracting some of the best talent in the nation to play for him.
So what's next? Penn State is only allowed to offer 15 scholarships for the 2014 class, and with a total scholarship limit of 65 starting next season (down from standard NCAA limit of 85), advance planning is paramount for proper roster management. With four spots remaining it's entirely possible that O'Brien and his staff are done for the year, or they could stock the cupboard full while he still can.
"This class isn't over yet," FightOnState.com recruiting anaylst Greg Pickel says. "Penn State seems likely to take a full 15 in this cycle, and if they don't, they'll take as close to that number as they can. Currently, the Lions sit well with a number of big time prospects, and there are four alone at one position group worth watching. At defensive tackle, Penn State will end up taking at least one, and possibly two, defensive tackles.
"Virginia prospects Ricky Walker, Derrick Nnadi, and Jeremiah Clarke are all worth watching, as is New York tackle Thomas Holley. Outside of that position group, keep an eye on defensive backs Dravon Henry and Montae Nicholson. Both have Penn State planted firmly in their top echelon of schools, though will not decide until at least the start of the high school season, and more likely well beyond that."
Moving forward there is no reason to expect O'Brien's recruiting momentum to slow. Penn State, like any other program, will have victories and failures on the recruiting trail, but the allure of playing for a staff full of NFL experience is likely greater than the chance to play in one of the nation's many "prestigious" bowl games.
Recruiting success comes with its own caveat though; in order for Penn State's recruiting to continue at its current rate the Nittany Lions will need to stay healthy and on the winning side of the box score.
All of the recruiting ploys in the world may not work if Penn State's coaching staff has to rely more and more on the depth of the roster and has a harder and harder time winning because of it. Penn State will always be a great place to play college football, but O'Brien's allure lasts only as long as Penn State can continue swimming upstream against a growing surge of obstacles.
Ultimately, the Nittany Lions are a pretty good team on the surface, but the deeper you go -- as with any roster -- the less true that is. As the number of scholarship players decreases so too will the number of truly skilled players Penn State will need to succeed down the road. Run-on's will fill the gaps, but few run-ons are built with the same mental fabric and physical potential as a Matt McGloin or Deon Butler.
Those issues aren't a knock on the program or the coaching staff. There is little doubt that O'Brien is well prepared for the future. It's a simple truth that Penn State's 8-4 season in 2012 could be a high-water mark for the short term if injuries and depth begin to plague the roster.
So for O'Brien and Penn State it is all hands on deck. While four scholarships may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, the players who sign on the dotted line in early 2014 could help make the difference between O'Brien continuing his success against the odds, or the tide of overwhelming hurdles finally crashing down on a suddenly not so happy valley.