As Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the Houston Texans, I had several different thoughts run through my head:
Good for him, you can't really fault him for this decision. Boy, Penn State is pretty much in the same boat it was a couple of years ago. Maybe this is when the sanctions really impact the program and Penn State is dead as we know it. Who's going to replace O'Brien to continue righting the ship? Wait, what about the recruiting?
Ask anybody who follows college football, and they'll tell you a program is really only as good as its recruiting. You could have the best coach in the world, but if your program isn't attractive and you aren't drawing attention to some of the best players, more likely than not, said team is struggling just to qualify for a bowl game. Not every recruit pans out, but there's a reason Alabama, Ohio State and Oregon are consistently dominant.
O'Brien did the most with what he had and surprisingly put together some incredible recruiting classes. In fact, he's leaving a 2014 class that ranks 17th in the country, according to 247Sports.
So, now what?
The good news is that Penn State is in greater shape than it was a couple of years ago. O'Brien leaving isn't the same as Joe Paterno being fired and the NCAA bringing the hammer down. It does return Penn State back to the unknown, but recovering from this minor setback will be a lot easier. This is why the fanbase shouldn't pretend the sky is falling and should feel confident for what is to come.
Even better, recruits who have committed early aren't wavering with their decision. Instead, they have rallied behind one another and seem committed to Penn State more than ever:
For 2014 I'm going to work 10 times harder then I ever did in my life .....I got to make it happen not just for me but for my family❗❗❗❗— Marcus Allen (@Chico_Ehhh) January 1, 2014
Of course, there's still a lot of time between now and national signing day in February. As the program witnessed after the Jerry Sandusky incident, recruits can say one thing and do another. Other coaches around the country are certainly going to make it tough for Penn State to keep these kids. And it wouldn't be surprising at all to see one or two actually leave.
How will Bill O'Brien's decision impact Penn State recruiting?
Defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who is a 5-star recruit, knows the drill and left the door open for the possibility of other teams to make a case, according to Kipp Adams of 247Sports:
“I will wait and see but as of right now there are no changes in my recruitment,” Holley said. “I am still a Nittany Lion."
This type of support goes a long way with keeping this class together and convincing others to even hop on board. But it only goes so far. The team still needs to replace O'Brien, and it needs to happen fast.
According to pennlive.com, there are rumbles that Vanderbilt's James Franklin is the guy Penn State wants. If the program can land him, they would have twice won the lottery. It would also without question take recruiting to another level.
Just talked to an ACC coach: "If James Franklin ends up at #PennState that'd be bad for us. He'd kill it in recruiting around here."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) December 31, 2013
Franklin has helped build Vanderbilt from the ground up, and it's started with incredible recruiting classes. He's been able to steal a few diamonds in the rough and currently has a top-30 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.
Let's be honest—Vanderbilt has its perks, but it is a far cry from Penn State on a national level. He'll have a lot more to sell than great academics.
But no matter who becomes the head coach, Penn State is still in a solid position. Like it or not, this is still a prestigious program that will continue to get national attention. You can't remove decades of success from the history books.
The Nittany Lions are still a powerhouse football program that is still on the radar of most recruits. If the sanctions didn't slow things down in the first two years, it's safe to assume this program is soon out of the woods.
The NCAA was generous enough to restore scholarships moving forward. This means that Penn State will have 75 scholarship players beginning in 2014-15 and will be back to the full 85 starting in 2016-17.
This is a huge step forward in getting the program back to competing for national titles. Let's also not forget that there is already great talent on the roster, including quarterback Christian Hackenberg, defensive back Jordan Lucas and tight end Jesse James.
You never know what these recruits are thinking, and anything can happen. But O'Brien did a lot of the dirty work, making the future a much brighter place for Penn State. The recruiting class shouldn't be negatively impacted.