Jesse James (18) was a freshman this season that made a big impact on the Nittany Lions.
As national signing day quickly approaches, coach Bill O’Brien is putting Penn State in a position to move forward.
The 2012 class has 17 total committed players, six of which were given a 4-star rating by ESPN.
Among those six players with 4-star rankings, there are three in the ESPN Top 300 and two in the ESPN Top 150.
With a higher-caliber class set to come to Happy Valley in 2012 than in the previous year, expectations will be high for these young men to develop on the field.
Out of all of the players heading to Penn State for the 2013 season, here is a list of the four recruits that will most likely start in their first year on the team.
Out of Randolph High School in New Jersey, the 6’5” 310-pound Brendon Mahon is a force to be reckoned with.
ESPN’s Recruiting Nation has Mahon ranked as the 10th-best offensive guard in the country, and Mahon recently played in the Army All-American Bowl.
Mahon is big and a strong, physical run-blocker—someone who can fit into O’Brien’s offense that found success in Zach Zwinak’s physical running style.
Although there isn’t a huge hole on the offensive line for next season, Mahon still will have a good chance to start as a freshman.
He has played both offensive tackle and guard positions effectively, and his ability to be versatile on the line will undoubtedly benefit him.
O’Brien has to love Mahon’s size and strength.
Look to see the lineman starting next season in Happy Valley.
With Penn State losing three key players on its defensive line for next season, defensive end recruit Garrett Sickels will get a chance to play.
Sickels is another New Jersey native that will be coming to Penn State after a high recruited high school career.
The 6’4” 245-pound Penn State recruit had offers from numerous SEC schools such as Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, along with many other big name schools such as Notre Dame.
O’Brien may have landed a gem in Sickels, who was given a scout grade of 80 by ESPN’s Recruiting Nation and was selected to the Army All-American Bowl.
Sickels is slightly undersized at defensive end and may be athletic enough to move to a linebacker position.
But whether it’s on the defensive line or at linebacker, Sickels will have a chance to be an early contributor to a defense that lost top talent at both positions.
Recruited as a outside linebacker out of Mays Landing, New Jersey, Brandon Bell will be coming into an open competition in Happy Valley.
With the loss of Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, Penn State will be looking for someone to step up and fill the void.
Although the Lions have Mike Hull and other young players such as Nyeem Wartman to help replace Mauti and Hodges, Bell will have a chance to play.
As a starter at running back and linebacker at Oakcrest High School, Bell is athletic and quick, both traits needed at the outside linebacker position.
ESPN has him ranked as only a 3-star recruit, but Bell has the tool set to surprise some people.
At 222 pounds, Bell won’t need to gain much weight to compete at the Division I level as a linebacker.
With an opportunity to get early playing time at linebacker, don’t look for Bell to waste that chance.
Although Tyler Ferguson will not necessarily be a freshman at Penn State next season, it will be his first year playing in Division I football.
It’s necessary to include Ferguson in this discussion, because the starting quarterback job at Penn State is currently up for grabs.
Ferguson is enrolling this spring in Happy Valley, and will be allowed to participate in spring practices with the team.
This gives the California native time to acclimate himself to the offense and working in O’Brien’s system.
Even though current freshman Steven Bench may have the upper hand at the starting job after being in O’Brien’s offense for a full season, Ferguson has the size and toolset to win the starting spot.
As I have written earlier, the odds at Ferguson winning the starting job aren’t currently as high as Bench simply due to the fact the Ferguson is new to the offense.
But with both Ferguson and Bench being able to compete for the job in the spring, it leaves enough time for Ferguson to prove himself to O’Brien.
Ferguson’s arrival also allows for top recruit Christian Hackenberg to redshirt in 2013, and get used to the offense being run by O’Brien.
If Hackenberg redshirts, Ferguson will be the most physically gifted quarterback for O’Brien and he will earn the top spot.