A day after Wednesday’s national signing day, a survey — telling of Penn State’s meteoric rise under James Franklin — blew up on Twitter. Pick Six Previews, a college football media company, determined the best brands in the game by polling 224 recruits to “grade their interest and desire in each program” as if they were the nation’s No. 1 prospect.
Out of 129 football programs in the FBS, the Nittany Lions landed No. 3 — behind only Ohio State and Clemson, national champions in 2014 and 2017, respectively. Seven teams who have made it to the College Football Playoff and nine programs who have won a national title since 2000 sit behind Penn State.
On Sept. 24, 2016 — when Franklin’s record in Happy Valley dropped to 16-14 and his Twitter mentions were merciless — this reality would be inconceivable. Now, after a pair of back-to-back 11-win seasons and Penn State’s best recruiting class in recent memory, that brand ranking is on-point.
The presence of Saquon Barkley and Joe Moorhead have a lot to do with the program’s turnaround. No doubt. But the recruiting efforts of Franklin and his staff have brought Penn State back to powerhouse status — and will keep it there for years to come.
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As Pick Six Previews noted, every national champion dating back to 1999 had at least one recruiting class on its roster with multiple five-star recruits. Penn State pulled in three such players in 2018 — the first time the Nittany Lions have had more than one in a class since 2005. The only teams that nabbed more five-star prospects were Georgia, Southern California and Clemson. The Nittany Lions and Buckeyes were actually the only Big Ten schools to bring in a five-star player.
Middle linebacker Micah Parsons, wide receiver Justin Shorter and running back Ricky Slade are the headliners, and rightfully so. They can alter the program immediately. But there’s more to the group than a few five-stars.
By earning Nana Asiedu and Rasheed Walker’s signatures, Penn State became only one of two teams this cycle to land a pair of top-10 offensive tackles. The Nittany Lions are the only ones to sign two four-star tight ends (Zack Kuntz, Pat Freiermuth), and they brought in five of the top-9 Pennsylvania products.
The 2018 group ranks second-best in the Big Ten, and the disparities are mind-boggling. According to 247 Sports’ rankings formula, Penn State’s class garnered 285.92 points. The difference between the Nittany Lions and the No. 3 team in the Big Ten, Michigan, is 55.36 points — a larger gap than the one between Michigan and the conference’s worst class, Northwestern.
Penn State has separated itself from every Big Ten school not named Ohio State — and the Nittany Lions have done it in a relatively short span.
Franklin’s initial recruiting class, primarily filled with Bill O’Brien guys and a handful of Vanderbilt followers (i.e. Trace McSorley, Grant Haley), ranked No. 24 in the country. Not bad, considering a bowl ban was still in place.
Penn State’s 2015 class came in at No. 14 nationally, highlighted by Barkley. In 2016, the Nittany Lions were No. 20 and featured just the program’s second five-star signee in a decade, Miles Sanders. And last year’s group came in at No. 15.
Penn State’s average class rank in the seven years prior to Franklin’s arrival was 31.7.
With a top-5 crew now locked up, the average class rank in Franklin’s five years is 15.6.
And, look. Obviously, recruiting rankings and stars and formulas aren’t everything. But Franklin has this recruiting train going full-steam ahead.
Lose Moorhead? Promote Ricky Rahne, who exudes stability.
Lose key recruiters Josh Gattis and Charles Huff? Hire assistants Ja’Juan Seider, who will unlock Florida for Penn State, and David Corley, whose experience in the Chesapeake region, New Jersey and Atlanta will pay dividends.
Everything Franklin and his staff have accomplished points to the Nittany Lions making the College Football Playoff and playing for a national championship in the next few years.
The future is bright in Happy Valley — and on the recruiting trail.