Penn State spent most of the 2018 recruiting cycle ahead of the pack in college football. This remained the case on National Signing Day, when the Nittany Lions secured a top-5 recruiting class in composite rankings for the first time in program history.
After the addition of 4-star tackle Rasheed Walker, Penn State revealed it “completed” the class with 23 signees. Among this group, 22 finalized college plans Dec. 20-22 during the early signing period.
The class includes athletes from 11 states and two countries. Penn State signed six of the top-10 high school seniors in Pennsylvania, headlined by 5-star linebacker Micah Parsons.
Parsons is one of six recruits who enrolled early at the university in January. He is joined on campus by fellow linebackers Jesse Luketa and Nick Tarburton, defensive backs Trent Gordon and Isaiah Humphries and tight end Zack Kuntz.
Penn State signed 12 players who are considered top-10 overall prospects at their respective position, providing the ingredients for a program-best finish on National Signing Day. Here is a rundown of how the Nittany Lions fared compared with national powerhouses, conference opponents and past cycles in program history.
Where Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class ranks nationally
Penn State lands at No. 4 overall as of 3 p.m. ET after its final addition to the class. The Nittany Lions’ composite class score (285.92) narrowly edged Clemson, USC and Miami.
Georgia, coming off a National Championship Game appearance, sits atop national rankings with a composite score of 323.31. The Bulldogs are followed by Ohio State and Texas.
Penn State carried the No. 1 recruiting class during much of last spring, before being bumped by Ohio State. The Nittany Lions never suffered a fall beyond the top 5.
Where Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class ranks in the Big Ten
Penn State trails only Ohio State in conference class rankings, though the Nittany Lions won head-to-head battles vs. the Buckeyes for Walker and 4-star defensive end Jayson Oweh. Any time you’re competing with Urban Meyer on the recruiting trail, it is an impressive feat. This is his sixth top-2 class dating to 2006 with the Florida Gators.
The last two Big Ten champions are well ahead of all other conference members. The gap in composite score between No. 2 Penn State and No. 3 Michigan is greater than the margin between Michigan and No. 14 Northwestern. This is simply stunning and reflects how much perceived separation exists regarding incoming freshman talent.
Where Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class ranks historically
When considering the history of college football recruiting, things evolved rapidly in the early 2000s, when online prospect rankings expanded and became a common way to measure the strength of a class. So, in the parameters of this era, Penn State just wrapped up its most successful cycle.
Penn State previously had finished in the top 10 once, in 2006, and failed to crack the top 30 overall three consecutive cycles prior to Franklin’s arrival. The Nittany Lions now have delivered top-25 classes in all five cycles under Franklin, including a pair of top-15 classes in 2015 and 2017.
This 2018 recruiting cycle saw Penn State reach new territory. While Franklin’s staff landed top talent early by selling a vision in previous years, back-to-back 11-win seasons create proof of the program’s upward trajectory, and that often is the greatest value in any recruitment.
“The best thing that helps us right now in recruiting is us having success on the field,” Nittany Lions defensive recruiting coordinator Terry Smith said. “In the last two years we’ve won double-digit games, and it’s enhanced our recruiting. It’s allowed us to be relevant in conversations that the previous couple years we weren’t relevant in, so we’re just going to keep presenting Penn State.”
Here is a look at National Signing Day results since Franklin was hired in January 2014:
- 2014: No. 24 overall; No. 3 in Big Ten (five 4-star recruits)
- 2015: No. 14 overall; No. 2 in Big Ten (14 4-star recruits)
- 2016: No. 20 overall; No. 4 in Big Ten (one 5-star recruit; seven 4-star recruits)
- 2017: No. 15 overall; No. 3 in Big Ten (11 4-star recruits)
- 2018: No. 4 overall; No. 2 in Big Ten (three 5-star recruits; 13 4-star recruits)