No coach in the nation faced a bigger challenge this year—or, perhaps, ever—than Bill O'Brien.
He didn't just have to follow a legend, he had to follow a recently deceased legend. And he didn't just have to follow a recently deceased legend, he had to follow a recently deceased legend in the wake of the biggest and most egregious scandal in college football history!
So, yeah. The job he did in Happy Valley this year—coaching the Nittany Lions to an 8-4 record—earned him all of the plaudits he's received. But perhaps just as impressive as his on-field acumen has been his aplomb during recruiting.
I mean, think about it. How, exactly, are you supposed to convince a recruit to come to Penn State after the Sandusky scandal? How are you supposed to convince a recruit's mother?
And yet, in spite of that, O'Brien has managed to bring in ESPN.com's 24th-ranked recruiting class next season.
Here are three players from said class who will help the coach restore Penn State's greatness:
QB Christian Hackenberg
Christian Hackenberg may be more than Penn State's future—he might be their present.
With long-time leader Matt McGloin out the door, Hackenberg could be in line to start immediately in Happy Valley. The thought of that is daunting, but in the wake of Johnny Manziel's Heisman campaign, expectations have been amended for freshman QBs.
If the reports are any indication, however, Hackenberg is more than up to the task. The 6'4'' signal-caller is the top-ranked quarterback in ESPN.com's rankings, and 16th-best player overall.
He needs to develop a little more arm strength—although he does put decent zip on the ball—but his touch and accuracy are the things of legends.
Fair or not, the world will be expected of him the second he puts on a Penn State jersey.
TE Adam Breneman
Fortunately for Hackenberg, the cupboard won't exactly be barren.
ESPN.com's top-ranked Y-back tight end, Adam Breneman, will join him as a freshman in Happy Valley next year. And if the two can develop a good rapport, as many have predicted, they could be one of the most dangerous duos in college football.
Breneman isn't duly filled out bulk-wise, but he's got decent strength for this stage of development. That allows him to line up all over the field, and makes him equally adept in blocking and receiving.
He hauled in 72 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns as a junior, which is remarkable since he's only now starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
He could be the next great Big Ten tight end.
DE Garrett Sickels
Rivals.com ranks Sickels the fifth-best weak-side defensive end in the nation, and 100th best player overall.
That's a coup for the Nittany Lions, who, for the most part, have had far more success recruiting offensive players in 2013.
He has 12 sacks in 10 games this season, a testament to his instincts and work ethic. He needs to add strength, but his frame appears capable of adding bulk.
If it does, he could become a workhorse and a menace in Happy Valley.