Take Your Marks: Verbal Exchange

FOS staffers Mark Harrington and Mark Brennan once again dicuss and debate the hot topics of the day in our regular feature. This time they address fan concerns over Penn State's relatively limited number of early verbal commitments. Is it time for folks to worry yet?


BRENNAN: No way. As far as I can tell, the Nittany Lions have lost exactly one player who was anywhere near the top of their priority list — Pennsylvania quarterback Pat Devlin (who went to Miami). Early commitments from top athletes are great when a team can get them, but “settling” for average recruits early can be harmful to a program.

Landing defensive lineman Tom McEowen was important because he was a high priority recruit for Penn State at an area of need. Among the others who fall into this category, in my opinion, are All-Everything athletes Myron Rolle and LeSean McCoy, as well as Chris Bell, Maurice Evans, Jeremiha Hunter, Jared Odrick, Phillip Taylor, J.B. Walton and Sam Young.

Call that a top 10, if you like. The Lions will likely have a full complement of 25 scholarships to offer, so they are obviously extremely serious about a host of other prospects — Antonio Logan-El, Aaron Maybin, Andrew Quarless, to name just a few.

But I believe the 10 aforementioned players (including McEowen) will serve as a barometer of sorts for the overall quality of the class. I would not be surprised to see the Lions bat .500 or better with that group, and in doing so set the foundation for another strong class.

HARRINGTON: This may come as a shock, but I actually agree with you, Brennan. I'll take the argument in a different direction. While some blue-chip prospects do verbal early, I think you would find that a vast majority choose to commit well into the fall and winter months, with a good portion waiting right up until letter-of-intent day.

Of the 18 recruits in the Class of 2005 (I am not counting Daryll Clark since he originally committed in 2004), 16 (89 percent) committed between September and February. That includes standouts like Justin King (November), Lydell Sargeant (November), Derrick Williams (December), Sean Lee (December) and Jerome Hayes (February). As of this time last year PSU had two verbals and I don't think there are too many PSU fans who would say the Class of 2005 ended up being a weak one because of the lack of early commitments.

Penn State is getting mentioned once again by some of the best of the best, including Rolle, McCoy, Hunter, Odrick, Taylor, Walton, Young, Colin McCarthy, Logan-El, Maybin and Quarless, among others. Penn State has taken the same strategy it took during the previous two recruiting classes: identify needs, develop a target list of top prospects and work to secure that talent. It's investing 101 — Penn State is investing its time and resources and in some cases waiting for the best options. And often where there is high risk, there is high reward.

I have said it before, but a majority of fans expected the Class of 2005 to be poor because of the team's recent on-field struggles. But I think the staff has done a brilliant job of packaging up the “secret sauce” of Penn State and striking a nerve with many top recruits. I don't see why they won't be able to do it again this time around. Plus, it doesn't hurt to have guys like Dan Connor, Derrick Williams, Anthony Morelli, Justin King, Greg Harrison and Lydell Sargeant to point to.

BRENNAN: With all of that said, it is imperative for Penn State to get off to a strong start this season and show marked improvement from the past couple of years. A key ingredient in that “secret sauce” you like so much is a winning tradition, and if the high-profile recruits don't get a taste of that, it could mean real trouble.

The Nittany Lions have made serious strides under second-year recruiting coordinator Mike McQueary. Now they have to win some games to maintain the momentum.

HARRINGTON: That is a good point. Several recruits have indicated they have a strong affinity for Penn State as a school and program, but that winning is an important aspect to their decision-making process. I think if we see two or three solid wins out of the gate that Penn State fans may be happy with what it translates into on the recruiting front.

With a favorable schedule, a talent boost and a little determination, a few early victories could lay the groundwork for a strong showing in the near future. This is also why we tend to dwell on areas that need improvement like the play-calling and the offensive line — two more essential ingredients in that secret sauce. So it seems that there is a lot more on the line than another bad season and the sanity of a few hundred thousand Penn State fans.

BRENNAN'S FINAL WORD: “Two or three solid wins out of the gate” won't cut it. Penn State better take it to the likes of South Florida, Cincinnati and Central Michigan, all of which have serious holes to fill. Follow that with at least a .500 record in the Big Ten and a bowl appearance, and odds are you'll be looking at a top-15 class next February.

HARRINGTON'S FINAL WORD: I don't think that is all they need, but with some major targets like Rolle stating they may decide early it could serve as a tipping point for the prospects like McCoy, Odrick and Young who think they'll take a little longer to make their choice. A strong start can go a long way for recruiting and the confidence of the team headed into the Big Ten schedule.


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