Justin K. Aller/Getty
Pennn State coach James Franklin is assembling his highest-ranked recruiting class in Happy Valley.

Penn State Recruiting Mailbag: Future schedule additions should help, Nittany Lions in good shape for a top-10 class

Tyler Donohue

Join the conversation on Penn State football recruiting right here every Friday! Tyler Donohue, Land of 10’s Nittany Lions reporter, will respond to questions gathered throughout the week. Ask questions by contacting us on Twitter or reaching out during Tyler’s weekly Facebook Live show (8 p.m. Thursdays).

Penn State Nittany Lions recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have  plenty to address. Let’s get started…

Thanks for the question, Tommy, and this is something we haven’t touched upon. Let’s clarify the details of these upcoming home-and-home series.

Penn State previously announced plans for two games against Virginia Tech. The Nittany Lions visit Blacksburg on Sept. 12, 2020, and the Hokies reciprocate with a trip to State College on Sept. 6, 2025.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go until these matchups happen. Members of the 2018 Nittany Lions recruiting class will be college juniors for the first battle at Virginia Tech, while potential starters for that 2025 rendition currently attend elementary school.

The scheduled home-and-home showdown with Auburn — announced in June 2016 — is more compact. The Tigers visit Happy Valley on Sept. 18, 2021, then welcome Penn State to campus on Sept. 17, 2022.

The Nittany Lions have never played Virginia Tech, while Penn State and Auburn have split a pair of bowl games — the 1996 Outback Bowl and 2003 Capital One Bowl.

“We are excited that our fans will be able to see Auburn, Pitt, West Virginia and Virginia Tech in Beaver Stadium in upcoming seasons, in addition to our challenging Big Ten schedule,” Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour said in June 2016.

The Nittany Lions are scheduled for a home-and-home with West Virginia in 2023 and 2024. Pittsburgh beat Penn State last season in their first meeting since 2000, and these in-state showdowns will continue through 2019.

But getting back to Tommy’s question: How will those Auburn and Virginia Tech games impact Nittany Lions recruiting efforts?

Aside from providing an attractive Power 5 matchup for prospects to attend in State College, these project as strong nonconference games that should strengthen Penn State’s case for future College Football Playoff inclusion.

Virginia Tech won 10 games last season under first-year coach Justin Fuente, and it’s a program that has produced double-digit win totals nine times since 2004. Though Auburn is just 23-16 the past three years, the Tigers have appeared in the national championship game twice since 2010.

Victories over either program would pad the résumé for high-level bowl game inclusion or a postseason tournament bid. They would also serve as eye-opening performances in the eyes of prospects.

It’s no secret that SEC territory became a primary focus for Penn State recruiting efforts following the arrival of James Franklin from Vanderbilt. The Nittany Lions start a four-state satellite camp tour next month in Georgia and Tennessee.

Auburn is a program that annually attracts top-tier talent from the Peach State, where Penn State claims a pledge from 5-star QB Justin Fields and issued multiple offers during 2017 spring evaluation. The eyes of prospects in this fertile recruiting territory will undoubtedly shift to these matchups, and the 2022 game at Auburn could provide local talent with their first in-person peek at the Nittany Lions.

The recruiting ties to those Virginia Tech matchups are even more obvious. Franklin and his staff have found immense success targeting the “DMV” area (Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia) in recent recruiting cycles. Notable current Nittany Lions from the region include QB Trace McSorley, S Marcus Allen and LB Cameron Brown.

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Trace McSorley, a Virginia high school product, helped lead Penn State to the Big Ten title last season. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

The 2018 Penn State recruiting haul includes a pair of prized Virginia products: 5-star RB Ricky Slade and top-10 OT Nana Asiedu.

Virginia Tech is also very aggressive on the “DMV” recruiting trail, so expect these programs to battle well before that initial 2020 on-field matchup.

Simply put, these home-and-home series place a larger spotlight on Penn State in areas Franklin is attempting to cultivate. The scheduling of Auburn and Virginia Tech looks like a great call, both on and off the field.

Alright, we dug pretty deep on that one, so time is of the essence. Let’s get to another question.

Will, you made this job pretty easy by initially issuing the “top 20” inquiry, but your correction to “top 10” makes the question significantly more interesting.

Franklin signed a top-20 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, in each of his first three full recruiting cycles at Penn State. Those results peaked with a No. 15 overall class in both 2015 and 2017.

Let’s take a quick look at the current top 10 classes in the 2018 composite team rankings. Each program’s complete composite score is included.

  1. Miami Hurricanes (17 commits) – 263.78
  2. Ohio State Buckeyes (10 commits) – 226.95
  3. Penn State Nittany Lions (13 commits) – 226.29
  4. LSU Tigers (16 commits) – 221.49
  5. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11 commits) – 192.87
  6. Clemson Tigers (eight commits) – 173.63
  7. Florida State Seminoles (eight commits) – 163.59
  8. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10 commits) – 162.90
  9. Washington Huskies (eight commits) – 161.99
  10. Oregon Ducks (nine commits) – 159.79

As you can see, Penn State situated itself very well with an early flurry of pledges from elite high school juniors. Conference rival Ohio State — fresh off six blue-chip commitments in a six-week span — supplanted the Nittany Lions atop the Big Ten class rankings Tuesday when 4-star LB Dallas Gant added to Urban Meyer’s 2018 prospect collection.

The Buckeyes lead college football in average composite rating per pledge (96.34), while Penn State is No. 5 in that category (91.65). The question Will proposes assumes 5-star DE Micah Parsons doesn’t return to this Nittany Lions class.

Parsons, an in-state recruit considered the No. 1 overall defensive end for 2018 by 247Sports, ended a 14-month commitment to Penn State last month. He told Land of 10 a “fresh start” is exactly what his recruitment needed, but didn’t dispel the possibility of reconciliation with the Nittany Lions.

If Parsons remained in the class, it would leapfrog Penn State over Ohio State with a composite score of 243.12, according to 247Sports’ class calculator tool. The odds of him landing in Happy Valley look to be 50-50 at best, and for the sake of this question let’s keep Parsons out of the equation.

What we can do as an exercise is examine what happens when you match Miami’s commitment total (17) with four realistic Penn State pledge possibilities. Without reaching for a “dream scenario” let’s plug in the additions of 4-star WR Jahan Dotson, 4-star OT Rasheed Walker, 4-star DE Dorian Hardy and 3-star DE Jayson Oweh.

New Jersey WR Jahan Dotson considers Penn State one of his top options. (Tyler Donohue/Land of 10)

This would result in a composite score of 260.43 and thrust the Nittany Lions into a neck-and-neck race with Miami for college football’s top class. However, this math is shortsighted and doesn’t factor in continued success in Columbus, where Ohio State holds seven fewer commitments than the Hurricanes.

It’s also important to note that perennial recruiting powerhouses such as Alabama — presently No. 61 overall with just two pledges after seven straight No. 1 recruiting classes — will get a major boost as coveted players climb aboard. Factor in Florida (six commits), Georgia (three), Michigan (eight), Oklahoma (seven) and USC (six) and a far more contentious crowd is likely to form near the top of these rankings.

If Penn State is able to keep tabs on Fields, who received visits from Alabama, Florida and LSU this week, the program is in great position to complete this cycle with a top-10 group of prospects. The trajectory of this team is clearly pointing upward, and an impressive foundation of 2018 talent continues to aid Franklin by applying peer recruiting tactics.

If you think the Nittany Lions’ recruiting strategy is hot right now, what happens if Penn State enters its Oct. 21 “white out” game against Michigan with a 6-0 record?

It’s been fun, folks! Thanks for the questions and keep them coming all year long!

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