After catching up with Michigan's recruiting class, it's now time to dig deeper with Penn State. While the Wolverines and Buckeyes have caught the most attention for their hot starts in 2013, Bill O'Brien and the Nittany Lions have quietly been putting together a solid class. We sat down with Tim Tolley of Victory Bell Rings to get his perspective on everything from Adam Breneman to Alex Anzalone.
1) What should Buckeye fans know about Penn State's 2013 class? What are your feelings about the class thus far?
Obviously, the two key players committed right now are QB Christian Hackenberg and TE Adam Breneman. Many feel that the O'Brien offense will work best when he has a high caliber QB and strong TE play, in order to replicate the Patriots offense...without Tom Brady, of course.
We've hit a lull right now, and some fans are worried. Still, I think that if you had asked fans back in February if they'd be happy in May to have eight verbals, including guys like Ross Douglas, Garrett Sickels, Breneman and Hackenberg, every fan would have taken it.
2) Which position groups do you think are the most important to fill in this class? How has the staff addressed those needs?
Linebacker and defensive back really jump out. PSU has taken a total of TWO linebackers combined in the last two classes. I have no doubt that they'd like to land at least three in this cycle. They've offered several, including three in the past couple of weeks, but have yet to land one. Luckily the region is pretty plentiful at the position, but quality is a must because these guys will be forced into action early in their careers, due to lack of depth.
Penn State has been thin at DB for some time now. The starting secondary last season all graduated and the staff moved a WR, Curtis Drake, into a starting CB role this Spring. They have CB Ross Douglas in the fold and are in it for a few other DBs, but they'll be hurting if they don't get at least three solid DBs (corners or safeties) in this class.
WR Ryan Switzer was supposed to be the "Wes Welker" of O'Brien's offense. (I realize these comparisons aren't fair, but they're happening.) He was all but committed to Penn State, then ended up pledging to play for UNC. Alex Anzalone, though not a surprise, hurt a bit. He's the top in-state player at a position of need. That would have been a big get for the staff. He's back on the market but I think it's a Florida-OSU race...despite the decommitment.
4) Which committed prospect are you the most excited about?
I have a pretty good relationship with Breneman and he seems to really be a good, level-headed kid. He grew up a Penn State fan and seems like the right guy to kind of lead the next charge, if that's not too cheesy. Also, Ross Douglas has really been lighting it up on the camp circuit. The knock on him is his height but if he can cover, he will see the field early at Penn State.
Of course, ESPN naming Hackenberg as the top "pro-style" QB was exciting for the fans, even if ESPN isn't exactly the authority on recruiting.
5) What are your thoughts on Bill O'Brien? Is he doing the job that Penn State fans expect him to on the recruiting trail?
When the rumors started that he was going to be the guy, I was up in arms like the rest of the fan base. A game has yet to be played, but I don't think he has done anything that I can really be critical of, up to this point. He has been winning over fans, including myself, since his introductory press conference.
As far as recruiting, fans are never happy. In Penn State's case though, fans are at least relieved. I don't know if you heard, but we had a little issue back in December/January with the 2012 class and some of them decommitting...The staff scraped together a class but fans really didn't know what to expect, going forward. Despite a few holes that need filled, I think that getting the top-notch QB on board early was a smart move and will allow the class to develop into a top 15 or maybe even top 10 type of class.
6) How many more spots are left in this class for Penn State? Who are the top targets left on the board to fill them?
A lot of people think that this will be a small class, in the 16-18 range, which would leave around 10 open spots. I think that Penn State will lose at least a QB to transfer, and there are a few redshirt juniors on scholarship who will be graduating in the Winter or Spring of next year and may be asked to move on. O'Brien has to be careful how he does it because if it looks like he is kicking kids off the team/out of schools, some fans will get their pitchforks out. I think the class ends up being around 20-21 kids deep, leaving 12 or so spots.
The top player on the board is WR Robert Foster, who Buckeye fans are familiar with. I have an inkling that he doesn't land in the B1G, but PSU is still recruiting him. After that, the top guys are OT Dorian Johnson, who has narrowed his top four down to OSU, WVU, Pitt and Penn State. He'll be visiting OSU soon (this week, maybe?) and announcing in June/July. Many thing it's a Pitt/PSU battle, but Urb is never out of a recruiting battle. Lastly, RB David Williams from Philadelphia is a key player. He seems to be very high on Penn State and some of the current committed players have commented that they feel he is close to becoming a Nittany Lion. However, he told me that he plans on taking official visits to USC, Miami, Notre Dame and others before deciding and he can't take those until the fall. Not sure if the PSU staff will leave all their eggs in that basket for that long, and they're expected to take only one RB.
7) Finally, what are your thoughts on the Alex Anzalone saga?
What a mess. I've written about this a few times on VictoryBellRings.com so I'll repeat some of that to you. I don't think it was Urban's fault. I don't think it was Ohio State's fault. This literally could have happened anywhere. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, it happened in Columbus and was apparently enough to scare the Anzalone family away, even if only momentarily. I know the Penn State staff has been banging down his door since he backed off of his commitment, but my gut feeling is that he somehow ends up in Scarlet and Grey after everything has cooled down.
Thanks again to Tim for his analysis. For more information on Penn State football and recruiting, check out http://www.victorybellrings.com or follow them on Twitter at @VictoryBellRings.