Anyone who followed college football last year knows of the immediate impact the 2005 recruiting class had on the offense of the Nittany Lions. Early enrollee freshmen wideouts Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood joined with redshirt freshman Deon Butler to create a much needed offensive spark, to instantly transform an offense that many had written off as boring and antiquated into a potent offense with multiple instant scoring threats.
Prior years had seen PSU fall in the recruiting rankings right along with their record. Notre Dame fans should know from first hand experience that when a team doesn't perform on the field, it gets more difficult to bring a strong class filled with top talent while recruiting. Luckily for PSU, they were able to solve both problems with the addition of a few key freshmen.
The impact of the Lions' BCS quality season can be clearly seen in their 2006 recruiting haul, which Scout ranked as number six nationally. They addressed needs along both offensively and defensively, bringing in 24 quality recruits. If these players can step in and have the same type of impact the 2005 class had, Penn State fans will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Let's take a look at the status of various positions after the 2006 recruiting class:
With Michael Robinson headed to the NFL, this will likely be the position that is most critical to the PSU offense in 2006. Anthony Morelli was a five-star signee in PSU's five quarterback class of 2004 (yes, five quarterbacks), and is slated to start in 2006. Some insiders feel that Morelli has yet to demonstrate that he's got what it takes to lead the Lions and that he isn't the long-term answer. Pulling four-star prospect Pat Devlin away this year from Miami was certainly something to be proud of, and many feel that he will be able to compete with Morelli for playing time right away. If Devlin picks up the system quickly, JoePa could have a serious quarterback controversy on his hands.
With the team's leading rusher, Tony Hunt, returning, he'll likely be locked in as the starter. PSU has some depth at the position, but doesn't seem to have the big back that BigTen football is known for behind hunt. Incoming freshman and three-star prospect Brent Carter might be an exception, but look for the Lions to try and add at least one or two stud backs this year.
Wide Receiver/Tight End:
With such a young receiving corps in place already, its certainly not an area of need, but the newly tweaked PSU offense will likely attract more top flight receivers simply because its style. This year the Lions were able to sign five-star receiver Chris Bell and four-star tight end Andrew Quarless. The Lions obviously did well with receivers in 2006.
Offensive Line:With Levi Brown the only returning starter along the offensive line, its easy to see why the coaching staff loaded up with talent and numbers along the offensive line. The Lions inked four offensive linemen, and some of their many defensive line signees could end up along the offensive line. The cream of the crop is four-star prospect Lou Eliades (whom the Irish had serious interest in), five-star prospect Antonio Logan-El and four-star prospect J.B. Walton. Expect the staff to continue to bring in more talent in the near future to bolster an area that needs some help.
Defensive Line:The D-line for the Lions is also going to be interesting watch in 2006. They lose three of four starters from the 2005 defense, including stud Tamba Hali. Like the O-line, the staff directly addressed their loss of starters by signing nine players including four-star prospects Jared Odrick, Phillip Taylor, Tom McEowen, Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans this year. In total, the Lions brought in a total of 13 linemen (both offense and defense) so it wouldn't be surprising to see some players moving over to the other side of the ball. Either way, expect the staff to continue to bring in talent along the line, especially if the inexperience of the line shows in the upcoming season.
Linebacker:WIth Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor returning as stars at the linebacker position, this will clearly be the strength of the PSU defense. The staff brought in only two linebackers in the 2006 class, four-star prospect Navarro Brown and three-star prospect Bani Gbadyu. Look for the Lions to add to both the talent and numbers in 2007. If Connor and Posluszny continue on their current tracks, it shouldn't be hard to land a couple of studs.
If you're a Nittany Lion fan, you have got to be most worried about the 2006 secondary - they will be losing all four starting members of the 2005 squad. This loss might move Justin King to the defensive side of the ball permanently, but is still a glaring hole right now for the Lions in terms of talent. Going by star rankings alone, the Lions have brought in exactly two players rated at four stars or higher in the last three years - Justin King and A.J. Wallace. They also landed two three-star safety prospects this season in Travis McBride and Cedric Jeffries. Expect the coaching staff to address this issue head-on in he coming year.
Most people say football games are won in the trenches. If that is the case the Lions should be fine for the near future. Overall Penn State landed two five-star prospects and 11 four-star prospects. Compare that to Notre Dame's three five-star prospects and 12 four-star prospects and Penn State's class stacks up very favorably to Notre Dame's impressive recruiting season.
By the end of the 2005 season, the verdict was unanimous among the college football community: Penn State is back. Love him or hate him, Paterno got the results on the field that will make recruiting in the northeast region, and nationally, much easier. Add to the results on the field a recruiting staff with the likes of Larry Johnson, Sr. and Brian Norwood, and you've got a force to be reckoned with. Expect Notre Dame to battle it out with PSU in the north-east for many of the top prospects in the years to come. How fitting that the year after both ND and PSU have seen a resurgence both on the field and on the recruiting trail, they renew their rivalry at Notre Dame Stadium.