Penn State had a pretty eventful weekend in the recruiting world. First, the Nittany Lions added offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez on Saturday. Then, on Sunday, Penn State added talented inside linebacker Josh Barajas to the Class of 2015 mix. The buzz continues to swirl around the Penn State program with James Franklin leading the recruiting the charge. Dominate the state? Franklin has begun to make a push to dominate the region, and he could be in the early stages of building a team that could be ready to make a run in the Big Ten as soon as the NCAA’s postseason ban on the program is lifted.
It is easy to get carried away when a new coach comes in to town and starts taking to every microphone possible. Franklin says all of the right things, and so far he has been backing it up every time he gets an opportunity to do so. Penn State currently sits on a Class of 2015 that includes eight players given a four-star ranking by the 247 Sports composite rankings. Franklin’s recruiting class is starting to address some concerns about depth at positions like the offensive line, an area that may have been on the backburner in the brief time Bill O’Brien was in town. Franklin also benefits from having more scholarships to offer as well, and this is where he can begin to build a program as opposed to a team. O’Brien had to focus on key skill players to keep things afloat. Franklin can now concentrate on depth and role players as well. This is not a slight on O’Brien, but the reality of the impact of the sanctions.
One thing going for Franklin as he takes over as head coach of the program is where Penn State sits in the sanction era of the program. As it stands right now, Penn State has two football seasons left on postseason probation. Selling recruits on a bowl trip is something O’Brien was able to start pitching when out on the recruiting trail, but Franklin can capitalize on the thought of playing in multiple bowl games. It’s a big deal, whether coaches or players want to admit it or not. Hope for the postseason ban to be reduced later this year are not necessarily out of line. The NCAA has shown that a promising review from George Mitchell can influence their stance on the sanction terms with turning back some scholarships. If there is anything else the NCAA would be likely to give back moving forward, a year off the postseason ban feels the most likely to happen. Lifting the final two years of the postseason ban to allow Penn State to play in a bowl game in the 2014 season feels a little too optimistic.
If the ban stays in place and Penn State is not eligible for postseason play until the 2016 season, so be it. Franklin will have a program ready to make a push for postseason play. If Franklin continues to recruit at the rate he is right now, and that talent develops and the depth becomes less of a concern, Penn State will compete for a spot in the Big Ten championship game and very well could be a legitimate contender for one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff.
But first thing’s first. Let’s see if Franklin can beat Central Florida.