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December 11, 2012By landing verbal commitments from DaeSean Hamilton, Zayd Issah, Anthony Smith and Jonathan Walton Sunday, Penn State's class of 2013 reached 17 members, building its number of three-stars to eight in the process.
Though the Nittany Lions' Rivals.com national team ranking of No. 36 isn't spectacular, admittedly, Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell did not see this coming from first-year - AT&T Coach of the Year - head coach Bill O'Brien after the NCAA leveled its historic sanctions against the program in July.
"What I look at most importantly for them is who they're beating. At first, who they first started beating with Kasey Gaines and Jordan Smith, it was nobody. They weren't beating anybody," Farrell said via phone interview Monday afternoon. "Now, they're beating BCS programs.
"That gives you some momentum going into next year and it shows that, yeah, the sanctions are there, we're not going to be able to recruit at the same high level we used to be able to recruit at, but we're still going to be able to go out and beat BCS teams for kids.
"Honestly, in July when those sanctions came down, I didn't think that would be the case."
Even in early October, while Penn State regrouped from an 0-2 start to the season but managed to hang onto the verbal commitments of four-star recruits Adam Breneman, Christian Hackenberg, Garrett Sickels and Brendan Mahon, Farrell projected a dearth in top-level recruiting talent for the foreseeable future.
"I still don't see a four- or five-star commitment for the Nittany Lions aside from these four for quite some time," Farrell wrote in a column for Rivals.com, dated Oct. 3.
"Obviously, there's been a lot of attention paid to my four and five star comment which was made exactly sixty-eight days ago, which I'm reminded of every single day," Farrell said Monday. "I stand by that, but it's not going to surprise me when that is broken. I know a couple other services have Zayd as a four-star, and we don't, and we go based on our rankings. DeaSean Hamilton is as close to a four-star as they come.
"They're going to get one, and I didn't think that would be the case in July. It might not happen this year, but next year, during the spring and summer, they're going to break through, and that's a testament to the season they had and the coaching ability of Bill O'Brien and the recruiting ability of Bill O'Brien, who has really made me look foolish in my three-win prediction, and I expect him to make me look foolish in my four-star prediction."
Though O'Brien took the job as a bit of an unknown quantity, Farrell continued, his early success on the recruiting trail landing the likes of Hackenberg, Breneman, Mahon and Sickels suggested big things to come. In fact, O'Brien's 13 verbal commitments to make their pledges before July's sanctions were rated no lower than three-stars, including four-star defensive tackle Greg Webb, four-star offensive tackle Dorian Johnson, four-star cornerback Ross Douglas and three-star linebacker Zach Bradshaw, all of whom decommitted in the immediate wake of the sanctions.
"And then the sanctions came down and, I don't care who you are - either you're a die-hard Penn State believer, or you're lying if you thought they were going to win eight games this year and these sanctions weren't going to send twenty-five plus players scurrying from the football team with the waiver of the transfer rule," Farrell said, recalling the flurry of panicked calls and texts he fielded that Monday morning in late-July. "They were historic sanctions, and nobody could have predicted what happened. Moving forward, yeah, that was a senior-laden football team, it was a bad Big Ten, and the roster depletion is going to hurt them.
"But, you start thinking to yourself, I really shouldn't doubt this guy now. Because he's going to make me look stupid, and he already has. That's what has changed. That's what Bill O'Brien is all about now. He's a guy that has turned into no longer a question mark, but an answer for Penn State in a big way."
Certainly, as Farrell suggested, the whirlwind of positive publicity for O'Brien and the Nittany Lions following their 8-4 season in the face of incredible adversity has had everything to do with the changed perception as it relates to recruiting.
The key for O'Brien and the Nittany Lions now is to capitalize on that success through the course of the next nine months.
Regardless of whether or not Penn State can pull in an unexpected Signing Day surprise four-star caliber player, the wave of momentum built on the back of the 2012 season will be a tremendous benefit for the Nittany Lions as they hit the recruiting trail for the Class of 2014, Farrell said.
"It's all about winning, it's all about what you've done lately," Farrell said. "The landscape is ridiculously fickle right now, and it's all going to depend on how they do next season. However, there's not a game to be played between now and next September. And, recruiting, as we know, is fifty to seventy-five percent done in the spring and the summer. So, he's got a lot of momentum going for him right now, and I think he'll do very well.
"Now, if they fall flat on their face next year, then you might see a dip in recruiting, but right now, he's got nine months to sell, 'Coach of the Year,' 'miraculous turnaround,' 'Penn State is still Penn State and we're not going anywhere,' and I think that's going to have a huge impact on the recruiting trail.
"Again, will they get a ton of four and five-star kids that want to come to a program where they're going to miss bowl games and deal with these scholarship reductions? No. It's not going to be that way."
Interestingly, Farrell added, with the success O'Brien has had recruiting in the face of seemingly damning sanctions, the hypothetical question must be asked:
What if the sanctions didn't come down? What level would this guy be recruiting at then?
Said Farrell, "He was killing it before and, if you remember, the NCAA was not going to get involved in this until the Freeh Report and all that crap came down. So, what if the NCAA decided to stay out of it as they had originally intended? Then you'd be talking about five and four-star kids lining up.
"Imagine what this guy could do. And, we're not going to know. This guy has three more years. It's going to get tougher. People are euphoric about this 8-4 season, as they should be, and about everything, Coach of the Year, but they won with a very, very impressive, senior-led football team that just said, 'You know what? We are Penn State and we are not going to back down.' Bad Big Ten or not, they did a tremendous job. But, it's tougher now.
"On the recruiting side of things, it gets easier and now you can tell kids that, you come in and redshirt, you only miss two bowl games. Last year, you come in as a redshirt and you miss three or come in as a true freshman and you miss all four. So, recruiting is going to get a little bit easier for them as they move forward. Winning games is just going to get a little harder."
Either way, with the latest round of much-needed, versatile prospects making their verbal commitments to the Nittany Lions, Farrell has seen enough to count himself among the believers in O'Brien's ability to coach and recruit for Penn State moving forward.
"He's proven to me that he's the best hire they ever could have made, and I said before the sanctions came down that Penn State recruiting was going to improve exponentially with the retirement or firing of Joe Paterno because now they can get a guy in there who is a dynamic proponent of the program, and that's what they have," he said. "They've got that guy."
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