Scout.com analyst Brian Dohn said he thinks anyone who tries to predict what will happen in recruiting is crazy, because recruiting is crazy.
So, when the NCAA hit Penn State with harsh sanctions in July — which included scholarship reductions and a postseason ban — Dohn didn’t attempt to guess what was going to happen to the team’s 2013 recruiting class.
What transpired was coach Bill O’Brien landing 17 players in his first full class, with 12 of those recruits rated three-stars or higher. Five commits have enrolled in classes at Penn State this semester and signed their National Letters of Intent to play for the Nittany Lions, while the other 12 verbal commits are expected to make their choice of Penn State official Wednesday as part of National Signing Day.
Though Dohn said he didn’t speculate what would happen to the Lions’ class after the penalties, he noted he was still surprised O’Brien was able to assemble the personnel that he did.
“I think it’s better than anyone could’ve expected or hoped for,” Dohn said. “When you look at what they were up against, to be able to hold on to the core of their class, to me, is nothing short of remarkable.”
As of Tuesday evening, Scout.com identified Penn State’s 2013 class as the 38th-best in the country, which ranked the team seventh in the Big Ten. Rivals.com ranked the Lions’ class as 43rd in the nation, while ESPN.com had it at 24th.
Teams typically get a maximum of 25 scholarships for each class, but Penn State was limited to 15 this year because of the sanctions. The team won’t be able to offer the full 25 until the 2017 season.
And though Penn State is technically expected to land a total of 17 players in this year’s class, early enrollees kept the team from going surpassing the number. Also, players who committed to Penn State this year won’t be able to play for a Big Ten Championship or in a bowl game for their first three seasons with the team.
Scott Kennedy, Scout.com’s director of scouting, said O’Brien had a “hard sell” to make, but was able to do so by preaching his program.
“You basically have to sell just Penn State,” Kennedy said. “…This is Penn State football, not ‘Hey let’s go to this bowl, let’s win this championship. Let’s do this, this and this.’ A lot of what you try to sell to recruits isn’t there for Penn State, but they’re still bringing in some good players.”
The most notable part of Penn State’s 2013 class is five-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. A Fork Union, Va. native, Hackenberg was the first recruit to verbally commit in the class, and he has stuck with O’Brien through the sanctions and other offers from schools like Alabama and Florida.
With the loss of 2012 starter Matt McGloin to graduation, the quarterback position is a question mark for Penn State heading into the 2013 season. Rising sophomore Steven Bench has some experience, and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson was one of the five players who came to campus in January.
Kennedy said he thinks the 6-foot-4, 205-pound Hackenberg, who Scout.com rated as the second-best quarterback in the 2013 class, has a lot of potential. But the recruiting expert noted Hackenberg — who won’t join the Lions until summer workouts — would benefit from redshirting.
“He’s ranked as high as he is because of what he’s capable of, not necessarily for what he’s done,” Kennedy said. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s got a good release, he’s got a strong arm, he can run a little bit. But my knock on him from what I’ve watched a little bit, when he’s under pressure, he starts throwing to the wrong-colored jerseys an awful lot.”
Other highly-touted players among this set of Penn State commits includes tight end Adam Breneman (who also enrolled early), linebacker Zayd Issah, and defensive end Garrett Sickles, who are all rated as four-star players. Dohn also noted he thought three-star defensive end Curtis Cothran was someone who was not being talked about much, but could blossom into an impact player for Penn State in a few years.