Can Penn State Outlast Alabama and Remain No. 1 in 2015 Recruiting Class?

Tyler Donohue@@TDsTakeNational Recruiting AnalystApril 14, 2014

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Penn State reigns supreme atop college football recruiting rankings...for now.

The Nittany Lions leapfrogged Alabama in 247Sports' composite 2015 class ratings last weekend when 4-star defensive tackle Adam McLean committed during a campus visit and added to a stunning haul in Happy Valley:

McLean, rated the consensus No. 1 prospect in Maryland, is the 12th player to join the class since Feb. 15. He's the highest-rated member of the group and its ninth 4-star recruit.

That's right: Penn State has been averaging one 4-star pledge per week since Valentine's Day.

This is the same program that saw its fortunes and image torn apart and left in tatters in 2011 when Jerry Sandusky's sins defined a season that Joe Paterno failed to survive.

This is the same program most expected would wallow in the college football doldrums throughout this decade after receiving unprecedented punishments and sanctions.

This is the same program that saw Bill O'Brien bail for greener pastures in the NFL just as he appeared to have Penn State on the upswing.

First-year head coach James Franklin is quickly proving the pundits wrong and, perhaps most importantly, he's returned the "cool" factor to Happy Valley.

Penn State is clearly a place where America's premier players want to win.

“I feel really good about the coaching staff, with where they’re headed and what they’re trying to do,” McLean told Washington Post writer Roman Stubbs. “I believe in what they’re trying to do.”

Belief is a powerful tool for a team tagged with a postseason ban through 2015. The players currently being recruited by Franklin haven't seen Penn State play in a bowl game during their high school careers.

It doesn't matter. The Nittany Lions are trending upward and Franklin is the primary cause.

"Coach Franklin, he's a great guy. If he wants you and needs you on this team, he's going to get you," running back commit Saquon Barkley told's Josh Moyer earlier this month. "I'm telling you the truth."

Barkley flipped from Big Ten newcomer Rutgers in February. His sentiments seem truer than ever these days.

Franklin is consistently beating conference rivals and national powerhouses in the pursuit of players he views as key targets. He's getting it done in talent-laden Pennsylvania and beyond.

Running back Saquon Barkley flipped from Rutgers in February.
Running back Saquon Barkley flipped from Rutgers in February.Credit: 247

The class includes recruits from Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Indiana.

Franklin, who recently led a recruiting rise at Vanderbilt, has displayed unique reach in his efforts, largely unrivaled during his current cycle.

Nick Saban is assembling another excellent crop of top-tier recruits in Tuscaloosa, carrying nine total commitments. The class contains 5-star Georgia defensive end Mekhi Brown and seven 4-star prospects from five states.

Still, Alabama has only picked up two pledges since Feb. 1 (4-star offensive lineman Richie Petitbon and 3-star defensive end Anfernee Jennings).

The Crimson Tide remain reigning national recruiting kings—for the fourth straight year—but not even Saban can measure up to what Franklin has accomplished during the past two months.

"I'm definitely surprised," coveted Indiana linebacker Josh Barajas said, per Moyer. "I didn't think they were going to blow up like this. But, then again, I don't see them stopping anytime either."

The 4-star prospect committed to Penn State in late March. His 247Sports' Crystal Ball projections were 100 percent in favor of a pledge to Notre Dame based on 31 expert predictions.

Commitments like that have kept the ball rolling for Franklin. The impressive run on talent is remarkable, but will it last?

Penn State is ahead of Alabama at the moment but requires nearly 10 more months of sustained success in order to ultimately unseat the Tide atop national rankings.

Saban will sign plenty of 4-stars prospects and sprinkle in a few 5-star pledges during that span. At this point, it's a given.

The onus will be on Penn State to keep up its torrid pace and prove Franklin is also a difference-maker on the field when his inaugural campaign kicks off this fall. If wins pile up in a hurry, prospects could be clamoring for a chance to play for the coach who has a region of fans re-energized.

Both Alabama and Penn State are still searching for a quarterback in this class. That's just one of several unknown factors that loom large for both teams en route to signing day.

Alabama lost 5-star passer Ricky Town in January when he flipped to USC. If Penn State is able to secure a commitment from one of its top quarterback targets—Brady White (California) and Brandon Wimbush (New Jersey) come to mind—it may make the difference in this battle for recruiting supremacy.

Of course, the likes of LSU, Florida State, Georgia and Texas A&M could also emerge as contenders for the top-ranked recruiting class. But for now, everyone—even Alabama—has to be in awe of Penn State's steady push to the top.


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