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Penn State Football: National Analyst Breaks Down Nittany Lions' Early Recruiting Success

by on March 29, 2012 10:00 PM

In many ways, the start of the Bill O’Brien era at Penn State couldn’t have gone much better for him.

Numerous speaking engagements, a friendly relationship with the media, and respect for Penn State traditions have helped the 42-year-old O’Brien win over many of his early critics after spending the past five seasons with the New England Patriots.

While O’Brien has yet to coach a game inside of Beaver Stadium, his impact on the football program’s future has already been felt.

As of Thursday, Penn State had received the verbal commitments from a quartet of four-star athletes, as well as five-star tight end prospect, Adam Breneman.

The sudden burst of success on the recruiting trail has been a welcome sight for Nittany Lions fans who have seen only one recruiting class rank in the Top 10 nationally since 2002, according to Rivals.com.

Even in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and the departure of former head coach Joe Paterno, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said he expected Penn State to do OK in its recruiting efforts.

“What made Penn State good hasn’t changed.” Farrell said. “The locker room hasn’t changed the fans, the stadium, the history and tradition hasn’t changed. I didn’t think it would be this quick and immediate, but I knew Penn State would be better off with an active head coach. People don’t understand the limitations the staff was working with since around 2006 or so.

"When kids took visits to campus they limited the amount of time they spent with Joe. He wasn’t the kind of guy you could bring out and say ‘he’ll be your coach for the next five years’, Bill O’Brien is a guy you can trot out front and center and say ‘Hey, this is our guy.’

"It’s less about getting him off campus and more about the experience kids have when they visit on campus.”

Considering factors such as Breneman’s lifelong love of Penn State, and the friendship between defensive end Garrett Sickels and offensive tackle Brendan Mahon, it would be easy to claim O’Brien’s success on the recruiting trail as good fortune rather than recruiting savvy.

Farrell says that O’Brien deserves a lot more credit for what he has done so far, despite losing on out Maryland transfer quarterback Danny O'Brien (Wisconsin), offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame)  and wide receiver Ryan Switzer (North Carolina).

“Some of these kids might have headed elsewhere,” Farrell said. “Breneman dreamed about playing for Penn State but O’Brien recruited Breneman very well. Sickels had every offer in the world, and when scandal hit, Mahon, who is a Penn State fan as well started looking at other places too.

"Kids have grown up wanting to play for Penn State, but that hasn’t landed them all there over the past five years. They’ve lost some of those guys, and now they’re not. That’s O’Brien.”

O'Brien and his staff will have an opportunity to get back on the right foot this weekend  as they host verbally committed players such as Breneman and four-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, and several other prospects, including Philadelphia native David Williams, the top-rated running back in the state.

Moving forward, the 2012-13 season may be the most important for Bill O’Brien and his staff as they look to sustain their rather hot start on the recruiting trail.

“In order to keep it going they’ll need to win, and play in a BCS bowl," Farrell said "A 6-6 season, or a bad year, and you’ll see vultures circling trying to pick up some of the big name guys Penn State has, O’Brien is doing the first part great, but he needs to win as well.”

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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