Mark down today’s date. There’s never been one like it in the history of Penn State football.
Oh, sure, the recruiting class that’s set to officially sign today is pretty good. In fact, given that Penn State is still facing scholarship limits, a postseason ban and just completely overhauled the coaching staff? It’s pretty impressive.
The Nittany Lions are projected to sign a top-25 class today — third best in the Big Ten. That’s according to the 247Sports composite rankings, which average the ratings from virtually every major recruiting service.
But all of that will happen early in the day. The historic part comes in the evening.
New Lions coach James Franklin will show off his vision for the future of the program at 6 p.m. at the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State has dubbed it “The Signature Event.”
Former Linebacker U stars LaVar Arrington and Michael Mauti are both scheduled to join Franklin, helping introduce the names and bios of each new member of the team, complete with high school video highlights on the scoreboards. Throw in the band and some cheerleaders for good measure. Franklin will have a formal news conference at 4 p.m.
Bill O’Brien did news conferences the last two years. Joe Paterno, in his later years, permitted a one-page release with nothing but names, positions and hometowns of new recruits. Further back, there was no acknowledgement of signing day at all.
The times they are a-changin’.
With apologies to Bob Dylan, here’s a primer for this year’s signing class.
Any potential surprises coming today?
The last 24 hours have already been busy with multiple recruiting services reporting that defensive end Lloyd Tubman has decommitted and is likely to sign with Kentucky. That news came on the heels of the Lions landing a verbal commitment from Alabama defensive back Christian Campbell.
After that switch-up, Penn State has 24 members of its class, including the five already enrolled for this semester. A 25th could be added today as Tubman, Southern Miss pledge Torrence Brown and Florida defensive back Lamont Simmons all have Penn State among their finalists, according to 247Sports.
Wait, I thought the sanctions only allowed PSU to sign 20 players this year. What gives?
The full explanation would take up most of the page here. The short version is that early enrollees such as quarterback Michael O’Connor can either be counted against the upcoming class (2014) or back against the previous class (2013).
Penn State clarified last week that all five of the recruits who enrolled last month will be able to count against the previous group. But that came after months of uncertainty because of the murky status of two recruits — Zayd Issah and Neiko Robinson — who never actually enrolled at the school.
As of Tuesday night, Penn State has 19 recruits set to count against the sanction-capped limit of 20 scholarships for 2014, with room to add one more without complication.
What stands out most about this class?
That would be the impressive cavalry arriving to aid quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Penn State’s returning corps of wideouts has just three players with any college experience — rising sophomores Eugene Lewis and Richy Anderson, plus rising junior Matt Zanellato.
Enter one of the best hauls of receivers in the country.
DeAndre Thompkins, Troy Apke, Chris Godwin and late addition Saeed Blacknall will all have an opportunity to play right away with a strong camp. Thompkins, as mentioned above, is already on campus, giving him a leg up.
Add in Mike Gesicki, rated by one recruiting service as the country’s top-rated tight end, and there’s both quality and quantity to bolster the Penn State passing game. It’s a solid mix of size and speed.
What are the concerns?
Because the overall team depth is lacking from the sanctions, the Lions could really use some ready-to-play prospects at every level on defense.
Losing blue-chip defensive tackle Thomas Holley (flipped to Florida) certainly hurts. Junior college transfer Tarow Barney at least provides some immediate experience to the rotation.
Three of the Lions’ top-four returning linebackers missed time with injuries last season and one of them, Ben Kline, had two more surgeries scheduled this winter. Getting one of Troy Reeder or Jason Cabinda into the mix right away could help.
The secondary remains wide open outside of Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas. All five of the incoming defensive backs could push for time.
It’s not that these recruits aren’t talented. Rather, the concern is that a handful may be needed to play before they’re fully ready.
Man, Franklin really wrecked Vanderbilt’s recruiting class, didn’t he?
That’s one way to put it. Five members of Penn State class had previously committed to Franklin when he was still at Vanderbilt. Tubman would have made it six.
In all, a dozen Commodores pledges ended up decommitting and are set to sign elsewhere today.
Each person will have their own opinion on the ethics of the situation. A cynic, though, might point out that applying morality lessons to major college recruiting is a depressing (and probably futile) exercise.
One thing is certain. Penn State fans, for better or worse, are about to experience a very different era for the program.
Tonight’s party at the Jordan Center could hint just how different things will be.