Bowl bans, vacating wins, and big money fines are not good at all. But when it comes to maintaining the competitive level of any football program, it is scholarships and recruiting that determine your success, or lack thereof. With Tuesday’s announcement by the NCAA that starting with the 2014 recruiting class and 2014-15 academic year the scholarship limits would begin to be relaxed, Bill O’Brien and the PSU staff suddenly have the ammunition to go toe to toe with Ohio State and Michigan in the Big 10 recruiting wars.
In the immediate future, the Lions can offer 20 scholarships, up from the 15 originally prescribed by the NCAA for the class that will sign in February, up from 15. The total number of scholarships can go up to 75 for next season as well, 10 over the limit of 65 that was set to begin then. Depending on early enrollment, and possible departures from the current team, PSU could conceivably take up to 23 players this year.
The big names are familiar to all Penn Staters, DT Thomas Holley, DB Montae Nicholson, TE Mike Gesicki, OL Alex Bookser, DT Derrick Nnadi, and LB Brandon Lee are the 6 biggest names left on the board. Prior to today, landing all 6 would have closed out this class. With the additional slots, it remains to be seen just who the staff puts the most emphasis on, but with the relatively late start, targeting the best available, and interested prospects could prove to be the prudent strategy.
I would also expect the staff to at least touch base with some previous targets who have verbally committed elsewhere. It’s way too early to speculate, but I would not be at all surprised to see one or two of those players reconsider. One that I would be shocked to do so, however, is 5-star Jabril Peppers.
2015 is where the fun could really begin. PSU will be able to take a maximum of 25 players, and the roster will be capped at 80 scholarships. With the available slots for the 2014 class dwindling, the staff had begun to shift more of their focus to 2015, and now, they have 10 more spots to play with. Players like RB Andre Robinson, TE Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (yes, that Tyrone Wheatley’s son. Yes, we’re old), DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, OT Sterling Jenkins, and DE Harry Lewis already appear high on PSU, and could serve as the launching point for a big splash in February 2015.
The post season ban remains in effect for the time being, but it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that as long as PSU continues to make the process Senator Mitchell expects, that too will be a thing of the past. With that said, that ban did not have the major impact many expected. PSU was still able to land a strong class in 2013, and is on its way to doing the same in 2014. Even if a player signing in February plays immediately, he would still be able to play in 2 bowl games. In short, it’s not a big factor at this point.
We got a brief glimpse of O’Brien’s recruiting prowess in early 2012, before the NCAA dropped the hammer. In the next few months, and into next season, we are about to be reminded just what a Penn State staff, with few limitations, can do on the recruiting trail.
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