Let’s face it, we did not expect Penn State to be where they are right now.
The Nittany Lions are 4-2 and 2-0 in the Big Ten, and realistically they are a field goal away from being 5-1.
Six months ago, critics said Bill O’Brien and his team would struggle to win games out of conference, never mind in the competitive Big Ten.
O’Brien proved them wrong.
With a new coaching staff in line (except for Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden), O’Brien salvaged his team that was quickly transferring away.
The first year head coach was able to hold on to some top recruits, including Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman.
Through all of this adversity O’Brien was able to get his seniors to rally around him and carry this team on.
No one can say with certainty how Penn State will finish this season in the Big Ten. Regardless of their record, NCAA sanctions have banned the Lions from playing in bowl games for the next four years.
So what are these kids playing for?
Many of the players, will never have a chance to play in a bowl. Only those freshmen who have red shirted and incoming recruits will have a chance to win the Big Ten and play for a bowl.
Among other things, many of these guys are playing for each other and themselves. Players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges will get a shot at the next level and have been putting their skills on display all season.
Whatever their personal reasons are for staying with the program and whether they know it or not, these players are playing for the future of their program (and recruits).
Even before the Sandusky scandal was made public, Penn State wasn’t where they wanted to be.
Joe Paterno had given his entire career to the university, but his team had a quarterback controversy and just wasn’t completely together.
Now O’Brien has shown that he has brought this team together and has been able to transform former walk-on quarterback Matt McGloin’s career.
Just seeing what O’Brien could do with McGloin has to be enticing to any quarterback prospect.
So when February 6 comes rolling around and commitments are signed, where will Penn State rank?
Currently Penn State is ranked 44th in the nation in recruiting.
The Lions have only 11 committed players and of them, only two are ranked in the Top 100, according to MaxPreps.
Both Hackenberg at quarterback and Breneman at tight end are top talents, there is no doubt about that. But after them, the talent level in Penn State’s recruiting class drops off.
Although Penn State has numerous offers to different players, including wide receiver Robert Foster, defensive end Alquadin Muhammad, and running back David Williams amongst many, their interest levels don’t seem to be very high.
Realistically, Hackenberg and Breneman are holding this class in the Top 50 by themselves.
Penn State has recently made an offer to JUCO quarterback Jake Waters from Western Community College. But it’s just an offer, not a commitment.
With Hackenberg reportedly expressing desire to redshirt his freshman season, Waters would be able to come in and have a good shot at starting. The Nittany Lions only have one returning quarterback on a scholarship for next season in Steve Bench.
Come National Signing Day, Penn State won’t have a high recruiting class and will most likely stay in the range between 40 and 50.
For O’Brien though, it will be imperative to take those one or two solid recruits in the upcoming years and turn them into top players.