After a disappointing loss last week to Minnesota, Penn State has three games left on its schedule and is in legitimate danger of finishing the season at 6-6.
While this season hasn't quite replicated last year's impressive showing, the Nittany Lions' effort on the recruiting trail have certainly been noteworthy.
Despite scholarship reductions imposed by the NCAA, Penn State has worked well with what it has had during the Bill O'Brien era. Last season, the first official class under his reign was ranked 46th in the nation, according to Scout.com, and another solid effort is being turned in this year. Scout.com currently has the Nittany Lions' 2014 class ranked 29th in the nation.
Penn State already has 15 players verbally committed to its 2014 class. With five additional scholarships left after the NCAA modified Penn State's original sanctions, O'Brien and his staff have a few more holes to fill before all is said and done.
For starters, Penn State will need all the help it can get in the secondary.
While Jordan Lucas has played well at cornerback, Trevor Williams simply has not. As for the safeties, Malcolm Willis is graduating in the spring and Ryan Keiser is only serviceable in a back-up role. Adrian Amos can fit in at both cornerback and safety, but he'll most likely play the latter next year because of how well Lucas is progressing at cornerback. With a lot of youth in the secondary, the door is wide open for someone to come in and play right away.
Another area of need for Penn State is on the defensive line. The unit hasn't played as poorly as the secondary, but it's a matter of looking farther down the road at this point.
Of the players who have seen significant playing time this season, only Austin Johnson will be an underclassman in 2014. Penn State could lose a lot of bodies over the course of the next two seasons, so stocking up now would be ideal.
The offensive line could use some key additions as well. Penn State will graduate three contributors from its line after this season, and its roster is thin on youth after that. It also doesn't help that only one player from their 2012 recruiting class—Wendy Laurent—still plays on the offensive line. This unit should be heavy on juniors and seniors next year, so it's essential that Penn State adds some talent over the winter.
Most Important Commits
First, let's take a look at the 15 current verbal commits among Penn State's 2014 class.
|Penn State's 2014 Commits|
|Troy Vincent Jr.||4||CB||5'10"||175|
Considering how poorly the secondary has played this season, having Troy Vincent Jr. and Marcus Allen on this list should be a sight for the sore eyes of Penn State fans.
Both 4-star recruits are also both candidates to come in and see playing time right away. O'Brien has said before that he'd like to redshirt as many freshmen as possible each year, but given Penn State's lack of talent in the secondary, that might not be possible in 2014. Both players had offers from numerous high-profile schools across the country, so the talent is certainly there.
Penn State has also picked up some depth at wide receiver, highlighted by the verbal commitment of Chris Godwin. A big and physical receiver, Godwin could see time as a freshman if Allen Robinson heads to the NFL. He had 42 catches for 900 yards and 12 touchdowns during his junior year in 2012.
In all, Penn State has three verbal commitments from wide receivers for its 2014 class.
In a case of the rich getting richer, Penn State picked up a commitment from one of the top tight ends in the country, Mike Gesicki. He'll join an already impressive group next year. While his future may not be immediate, it's certainly bright.
Most Important Targets
O'Brien's job isn't done just yet. Here are the top remaining targets that Penn State is going after:
|Penn State's 2014 Targets|
Landing defensive tackle Thomas Holley would be huge for the Nittany Lions. He's being recruited by the likes of Ohio State and Florida, but he was on hand for Penn State's thrilling overtime victory against Michigan.
Holley is raw—his first year of football was last year—but is explosive off the line, athletic for his size and strong. If he comes to Penn State, defensive line coach Larry Johnson could turn Holley into the next great Penn State defensive tackle.
If the Nittany Lions can pick up any of their top secondary targets—cornerback Marshon Lattimore, safety Erick Smith or safety Montae Nicholson—they would be adding some serious talent alongside Marcus Allen and Troy Vincent Jr. All three, however, are 4-star recruits that Penn State is not currently in the running to land. They might have the best chance at Nicholson among the three, considering that he's a Pennsylvania native.
Alex Bookser would be another big pick-up for Penn State. The 4-star offensive tackle, who has offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, is another guy who is athletic for his size. Bookser has the potential to be a multi-year starter in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions do have something working for them in his recruitment—Bookser's high school teammate is wide receiver Troy Apke, who has already committed to Penn State. Maybe Apke can work some magic of his own to help sway Bookser.
If the Nittany Lions can't nab Bookser, an intriguing prospect on the list is junior college offensive tackle Kareem Are.
Are is only a 2-star recruit, but is already the size of a prototypical NFL tackle. There's not much of a scouting report on him, but the fact that he has offers from Florida State and South Carolina should mean something. He's set to visit Penn State on Nov. 22.