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Believe the Hype - James Franklin, Recruiting, and the Resurgent Nittany Lions

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If you don’t like us this year, you’re going to hate us in the future...

NCAA Football: Iowa at Penn State
Aww yeah...
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

NaVorro Bowman is a bad man. Three time pro-bowler, 4-time First Team All-Pro, Butkus Award winning linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers. He also remembers the first coach that recognized his talent in high-school…James Franklin.

Franklin offered him a scholarship to Maryland in 2004, when Bowman was just a junior. He felt terrible about letting Franklin down back then…

"It’s just a crazy thing because I was really sad in letting him down because I thought of him as a great person, great guy and, unfortunately, I didn’t like the university as much as I liked him."

No matter what folks think of him as a coach, it’s hard to doubt his ability to scout talent. Not all the players he recruits end up playing for him, as we saw with Bowman. He chose the Penn State Nittany Lions over Franklin’s Maryland Terrapins back then. But many great players do commit to Franklin.

We can see that from the massive jump in Penn State’s recruiting class rankings.

Year

PSU Class Rank

Other Big Ten Recruiting Classes (Rank)

2016*

20

Ohio State (4), Michigan (6), Michigan State (17)

2015*

15

Ohio State (7)

2014*

25

Ohio State (3), Michigan (20)

2013

24

Ohio State (2), Michigan (4), Nebraska (12)

2012

46

Ohio State (5), Michigan (6), Rutgers (24), Nebraksa (30), Michigan State (33), Maryland (38), Iowa (40)

2011

31

Ohio State (7), Nebraska (16), Michigan (26), Iowa (27), Rutgers (30)

*Denotes Franklin's Recruiting Classes

Franklin came to Penn State on January 11, 2014. One of the more impressive things that he did was build the 25th ranked class in the nation in just 25 days. Losing Bill O’Brien was a tough blow to a lot of those kids, but Franklin’s charm charisma hype kept many of them in the fold.

That was actually an impressive job. Think about what he was working against…Bill O’Chin Dimple left for the NFL, the scandal was still fresh in folks’ minds, and the team was heading lower. Any coach worth a damn could recruit against that and win.Some coaches that weren't worth a damn, out-recruited us in 2012 and 2013.

Yet only OSU and Michigan had better classes in the B1G in 2014.

Moving forward, we can see that only Urban Meyer and Harbaugh are out-recruiting James Franklin with consistency. But success breeds success…and Penn State is slowly building that momentum.

Fast forward to today and you can see the results of those recruiting classes. Penn State is 7-2 with the potential for a 10-2 season. That’s a year or two early for even the most dedicated homer fans. I thought 9-3 was possible this year, if we got all kinds of breaks. But after the disaster at Michigan and the loss to Pitt, I thought 8-4 was the ceiling…not so much.

As our older kids got hurt, we started playing youngsters. And man do we ever have a lot of them. Twenty six of our 119 kids are true freshmen. That’s 22% of the team. Contrast that with seniors and graduate students, who make up just 11% of the team. Here’s how the eligibility breaks down after this year:

• 3 Years Remaining: 52 players (44%)

• 2 Years Remaining: 26 players (22%)

• 1 Year Remaining: 28 players (23%)

• Graduating: 13 players (11%)

That means the great majority of this team will be back for next year. And nearly 2/3 of them could play at least two more years. Now, don’t get me wrong. I doubt Saquon Barkley will stay for four years. But what’s important is that, behind Saquon is another fantastic runner, true freshman Miles Sanders.

He’s one of six freshmen that were so good that they had to see the field. He’s not alone. Punter Blake Gillikin is a true freshman. Two true freshman corners, T.J. Johnson and Zack McPhearson both got game time. Cam Brown is a true freshman linebacker that saw the field. Connor McGovern, who won Big Ten Freshman of the Week, started at guard.

This is a young Penn State team. It’s by far the youngest team I’ve seen at Penn State. In the distant past, freshmen never saw the field. It was the unusual bright stars, like Brandon Short back in the 1990’s and Dan Connor in the early 2000’s. But six? Never.

Same goes for the redshirt freshmen. Seventeen of the 26 redshirts played this year. Three of them started games this year. We have kids like Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles that are so good, they are getting playing time at the expense of older, more experienced wide receivers. This is a welcome change from the last five years. It was a brutal bear market in Penn State football. It’s nice to see that things are changing for the better.

If this is what Hype brings, I’ll take it. And get this, as an experienced marketer, James Franklin is only going to get better at recruiting. He’s selling a program that is on the verge of national success, that puts 100,000++ in the seats, has state-of-the-art facilities, and provides a world class education. Those are things Franklin can hype. And hype it he will.

Recruits will come. When you add talent to great coaching (I’m talking Brent Pry as the Defensive Coordinator and Joe Moorehead as OC here), Penn State is on the verge of great things. Personally, I'd be happy with a nine-win season this year and then challenging for the B1G East over the next two years.

Is that possible? I think so. With the kids we have coming in and the success on all sides of the ball right now...I think Penn State will be a tough win in the B1G over the next couple of years. Pass me that Blue Kool-aide y'all, I'm all in.

Your Friend,

Townie