Despite limited scholarships, despite a bowl ban, despite five years without a double-digit-win season, Penn State is attracting top-ranked talent in droves.
Look no further than the new guy in State College, first-year head coach James Franklin, who was hired away from Vanderbilt after three successful seasons with the Commodores. He's bringing his infectious personality and experience of recruiting in the SEC and building a future powerhouse. And he's doing it in a hurry. Franklin's only been on the job a few months.
Take this weekend as a nice little microcosm of what Franklin & Co. have done. The Lions landed a pair of top recruits Saturday: 2015 four-star wideout Irvin Charles and 2016 running back Miles Sanders. Charles is ranked as the 31st-best receiver in the country, the sixth-best player in the state of New Jersey and one of the top-250 players in the United States. He picked Penn State over Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Check that list over again. Charles committed to play for a program that's won 15 games combined in the past two seasons over perennial national-title contenders and a quartet of teams from what's almost universally regarded as the nation's top football conference.
[MORE BIG TEN: B1G 40: Can Jerry Kill keep building on success with Gophers?]
And Charles isn't alone. Offensive lineman Sterling Jenkins spurned Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush passed on Alabama, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee. Defensive end Adam McLean said no to Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Penn State has commitments from nine of the top-250 players in the country and 11 four-star recruits overall. Only Alabama has more. Only Alabama and Auburn have more five- and four-star recruits. The four teams whose Class of 2015 lists rank ahead of the Nittany Lions — Alabama, Clemson, South Carolina and Texas A&M — call recruiting hotbeds like the South and Texas home. Three play in the SEC.
So what is it? What's causing Penn State to be preferential to the SEC for these recruits? There are plenty of reasons to choose a college — playing time, proximity to home, general feel for the coaching staff and the campus. There are probably far fewer reasons to shave your pick's logo into your head:
Yes everyone WE ARE PENN STATE pic.twitter.com/2sI4KsziVF— *Next Level* (@MoneyMakeinAdam) July 10, 2014
[MORE BIG TEN: B1G-SEC: Why doesn't the Big Ten have its own Paul Finebaum?]
The answer, it would seem, is Franklin. As good a job as Bill O'Brien did in two years helming Penn State out of the still-lingering shadow of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, he never brought in recruits like this at this rate. Franklin is taking what he learned in three years going head-to-head with the likes of Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier, Les Miles and others and applying it to a Big Ten program — like Urban Meyer before him. Franklin worked wonders at Vanderbilt, but now he's got the strength of a historically powerhouse program behind him.
Penn State is still in the turning-around process following the dark days that featured Joe Paterno's firing. But Franklin is speeding that process up.