With the signing of Penn State’s 2017 recruiting class Wednesday, each of the Nittany Lions’ last four classes has been ranked in the top 25 nationally, according to Rivals.
In the big picture, that means it’s time to have high expectations of this program.
I mean, OK, people probably already got them from Penn State’s Big Ten title in 2016. Shiny trophies are the most tangible way to recalibrate a program’s standards. With one in hand, people were going to have demanding tastes regardless of where this class ended up being ranked.
That said, Penn State now has elite talent at all stages of development. And it’s been a long time since that was as true as it is today. According to Rivals, here are the team’s class rankings from 2004 to 2011, ending with the last full class signed before the program was hit with NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The moving average of four classes — 18.75 as of this writing — hasn’t been as high as it is now since 2007, when it was also 18.75. So it’s fair to say Penn State isn’t just back to where it was before the scandal. It’s ahead of where it was by a pretty significant margin.
This means it’s time to adjust those expectations. Do you remember what they were in 2007? Big Ten title threat? National championship contender if everything breaks correctly?
That’s what you should expect now.
No longer can you say this program sorely lacks depth at any positions. Sure, injuries may pop up and create depth issues at one point or another, as they did in the first half of 2016. But a general glance across the roster makes it pretty clear that the program should be able to sustain an injury or two just about anywhere in 2017 and still have blue-chip talent ready to step into the fray.
Nor can you say this roster lacks top-end talent. We’ve seen it manifest itself already in the form of players like All-American running back Saquon Barkley and All-Big Ten quarterback Trace McSorley, among others.
In short, the program should be good. And it’s time to move beyond being hopeful that it can produce results like those we saw this season to scrutinizing any detail that may leave it short of that mark.
Signing day and its aftermath usually generates a ton of over-analysis and projection for individual teenagers who in many cases haven’t even grown into their bodies yet. It’s that excess that leaves a lot of fans turned off to the process this time of year, and for good reason. It can be exhausting.
You don’t need to get too far into the weeds about this 4-star linebacker prospect or that stud offensive lineman recruit, though, to appreciate that this class represents something of a high-water mark for Penn State at the 30,000-foot level.
We’re no longer talking about a program that accepts its talent in waves. By ranking a fourth consecutive class so highly, analysts are telling us that Penn State is taking in a steady tide of useful players. Perhaps not on the level of an Alabama or Ohio State, but certainly on a level that historically portends good things in Happy Valley.
That 2007 group went 9-4 before producing a Big Ten championship and near-miss in the national championship race in 2008. It followed that up with 11 wins in 2009.
The data says Penn State is back at that level, hard as that may be to believe, given where this program started the decade. Don’t be afraid to demand those results from a coaching staff that now must prove it can coach-up consistent winners, not just a one-and-done title team.