Sorry, Ohio State.
And Wisconsin. And Maryland. And Rutgers.
And anyone else who thought Penn State was yesterday's football program. On a serious downswing. Ripe to be plucked.
Guess what? Bill O'Brien's Penn State Nittany Lions are not taking a step back. Not one inch. At least in regard to perhaps the most critical area for a big-time college football program:
Despite everything Penn State has gone through and continues to endure in the wake of the Sandusky scandal, O'Brien - in barely a month in State College - just landed commitments from three prominent prep recruits for next year's recruiting class.
(3/9 UPDATE: Make that four stud commitments, with the announcement by TE Adam Breneman that he is coming to Penn State)
Yes, Penn State - maligned, dismissed, scorned Penn State - is securing elite recruits.
It was just over a month ago, on Signing Day 2012, when the latest chapter in the greatly exaggerated Demise of Penn State Football was written. The Lions lost numerous highly regarded committed recruits post-Sandusky and post-Joe Paterno's firing.
Urban "Swiper" Meyer, the new Ohio State coach, seemed to make a special, concerted effort to flip PSU recruits to the Buckeyes, to kick the Lions when they were down.
Post-Sandusky, post-Paterno, many expected this to be the new norm.
Just a month later, PSU diehards already are breathing a lot easier.
The names of these three 4-star recruits who committed last week? It's irrelevant. It doesn't really even matter much if they ever make an impact at PSU.
What matters is: (1) they publicly pledged to Penn State, and (2) commitments like this reverberate through the recruiting universe. (For the record, the trio of commitments are QB Christian Hackenberg from Virginia, CB Ross Douglas from Ohio and DE/LB Garrett Sickels from New Jersey)
Well look who has recruiting momentum? That would be the last school any recruitnik would have guessed as recently as last month.
PSU has been in a similar place before. After the miserable 2003-04 seasons, when Penn State football was at its lowest ebb, and rumors were swirling that Joe Paterno would be fired, Mega-Elite recruit Derrick Williams committed to and then signed with Penn State.
The Lions won 40 games and two Big Ten titles the next four seasons.
It's not about what Williams ever did at PSU - he had a very good career but never was a superstar - it's about what his commitment symbolized.
It represented rebirth. It said PSU football was a factor. It gave a boost to a program that needed a boost.
These three commitments do many of the same things (even though Signing Day 2013 is about 330 days away, which is forever in the life of 17-year-olds.) What matters is, O'Brien and staff convinced them to commit to the program and the school - the school that just endured a savage scandal.
It sends a rippling message through the recruiting world: We're Back, or, We Never Went Away.
The O'Brien Era is just beginning, but we already know the answer to two extremely important questions:
- High school recruits have shuffled the Sandusky scandal and the messy, clumsy and wrongful termination of Paterno onto the back burner already in their decision-making process.
- O'Brien, who has no head coaching experience, will recruit top-flight players to Penn State.
We're. Not. Going. Anywhere.
Why is this happening? In part, it's because PSU is a wonderful school in an awesome college town with a fantastic football program. And that has not changed, despite all the changes the past few months, and despite the scandal. Also, while the scandal has greatly impacted PSU, it is not all about PSU. It is about a sick individual and his alleged victims.
These players can't officially sign with Penn State for 11 months, and they are at least 1.5 years from ever taking the field.
But they are an indicator. A telltale sign that OBrien and his staff can recruit top talent to Penn State. Right now.
PSU football supporters, let the fears subside. For the time being.
Just keep an eye out for "Swiper," he'll be snaking through the weeds, trying to flip these committed recruits.
The March/April issue of The Penn Stater is one for the ages. The entire issue is dedicated to Joe Paterno, and it's an incredible tribute with some amazing stories, anecdotes, photos and priceless nuggets of information about the greatest coach of all time. Kudos to the staff.
Seven Nittany Lions participated in the the NFL Combine in late February, and all departing PSU football players will have the opportunity to perform for NFL scouts at Penn State's Pro Day on March 14.
So, the projection below will need tweaking in a few weeks, but here's the current guesstimate of when Penn Staters can expect to be drafted in April:
Round - Player
1st - DT Devon Still
4th - DE Jack Crawford
4th - WR Derek Moye
6th - G Johnnie Troutman
7th - LB Nate Stupar
7th - CB Chaz Powell
7th - S D'Anton Lynn
7th/un- S Nick Sukay
7th/un- RB/WR Stephfon Green
7th/un- FB Joe Suhey
un - S Drew Astorino
un - G Quinn Barham
un - DE Eric Latimore
un - TE Andrew Szczerba
un - G Chima Okoli
un - G Deon'Tae Pannell