Recruiting: Don’t fear the Urban Reaper

The 2012 recruiting cycle wrapped up last week, and college football nerds—like me—have already set their sights on the class of 2013. Penn State finished with a solid but unspectacular class in 2012. Par for the course, all things considered. However, the buzz around PSU’s recruiting for next year is—to put it mildly—enormous.

A new coaching staff is always a recipe for an immediate recruiting bump. When that staff has NFL ties—especially Super Bowl championship ties—the hullabaloo is far greater. A new staff also means a hungry staff that needs to work hard to keep the paychecks coming in.

A traditional college football power awakening to the dawn of a historic new era also draws attention. Penn State’s location is still ideal—it’s the greatest program north of Georgia and east of Ohio. That’s an enormous population base to draw from.

The depth chart is favorable at many positions. Penn State’s current roster is strong but not brimming with NFL superstars. Recruits see that and like the odds that they can come in and compete immediately.

Penn State has a lot going for it. Yet lurking in the back of some fans’ minds is one fear: the Urban Meyer factor.

I can give you three reasons why the Urban Meyer factor will not be in play next season.

1. The Ohio State recruiting machine had a six-week head start on Penn State. They will not have that next year.

Blame who you will in PSU administration for the late hire, but Meyer had over twice as much time to rally his class. Not only that, but if you take away the four guys that OSU flipped from Penn State (and Noah Spence, who was favoring PSU pre-scandal), OSU’s class plummets from top 5 to top 20 nationally.

In a short recruiting race, Meyer had far more name cache than PSU’s Bill O’Brien and that helped him in the short run as well. And then consider that O’Brien was still the full-time offensive coordinator for the New England Patriot’s Super Bowl run. PSU’s new coach was never going to challenge Meyer in 2012’s class.

In 2013, PSU and OSU start out on equal footing.

2a. With a short recruiting cycle (about two months for Meyer), he could sell recruits on whatever vision he could concoct. As a new coach, the “old sins” of Ohio State—the ones that gave Tressel a huge recruiting advantage for most of the decade—could be chalked up to the unscrupulous former staff. With more time to see Meyer in action, recruits will be able to see that the new Ohio State is a lot like the old Ohio State.

Besides running a clean program—as Paterno did for decades, even while Tressel was building up his dynasty—Penn State still espouses the values of education and “building men.” Meyer did not have that reputation at Florida. He had a reputation for winning, but his mantra was never student first, athlete second. He was about winning. A few years at Bowling Green, a few years in Utah, a few years in Florida, and now—most likely—for just a few years in Columbus.

Recruits will quickly see the difference. There was a kind of kid that preferred OSU under Tressel, and the kind that preferred PSU. Often—not always, but often—they weren’t the same kids.

Ohio State under Meyer is going to remain a football factory. Penn State under O’Brien is going to remain a place where success with honor and high graduation rates—most notably for African-American athletes—are emphasized.

2b. This point is only slightly different from the last. Fellow Big Ten coaches are already pointing out Meyer’s shady “SEC style” to the media and to recruits. With the cloud already over Ohio State’s program (remember, they are on PROBATION—a bowl ban and scholarship reductions!), Meyer’s win-at-any-cost mentality is casting him in a bad light. Image is everything, and OSU’s new messiah’s halo will be a bit crooked and tarnished for the next recruiting cycle.

3. The on-field results—I’m predicting—will be another place where Urban will not outshine Penn State or the rest of the Big Ten. He did walk into a gold mine by inheriting rising sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, but the expectations are so high in Columbus because of Meyer’s resume and the loaded roster he inherits (the Big Ten’s best, if you subscribe to recruiting rankings) that anything short of 9-3 in 2012 will be an epic failure.

His recruiting class for 2012 (which was told by Meyer that no one redshirts in Buckeye land) will have little impact on the 2012 squad—true freshmen rarely do. All of Meyer’s merit will rest on how well he coaches up the players already in Columbus. These kids went through a lot of garbage the past two years and oodles of distractions. Now that the Urban has landed, will he be able to lead them merrily as one big cheery family to football utopia? Maybe. But I’m guessing that Meyer’s first season will be bumpy—bumpy enough at least to knock the shine off of Urban’s luster.

Meanwhile, in State College, expectations couldn’t be any lower. The scandal, Joe’s passing, a new staff, a disappointing finish to 2011’s football season, and a woefully incompetent QB roster—pick your reason why PSU should fail in 2012.

And maybe the Lions will fail. I don’t think the Nittany Nation should expect much better than 8-4, nor do I think that anyone else will expect more. But with the lower bar comes more room for pleasant surprises.

As Meyer told his recent class of recruits (following a 6-7 season for the Buckeyes) that better days would be ahead if only they’d dress up in the Scarlet and Gray, O’Brien will be able to sell prospects on a vision of Penn State where 8-4 seasons will be a thing of the past. He’ll get a pass for an 8-4 debut season; Meyer won’t.

In conclusion, the reaper came to Happy Valley in more ways than one in January 2012. The reaper named Urban used the perfect confluence of events to pick Penn State’s pockets and fill his own. But Penn State fans do not need to worry about that in 2013’s recruiting class. If anything, the Buckeyes should worry about Penn State reaping some revenge on the recruiting trail.


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