The biggest day of the college football offseason has come and gone so it's time to take stock. Let's fire up a little Two Dudes, One Post to break down the Irish and Nittany Lions' performance on Signing Day 2010.
1. Give your team's class a letter grade and a brief analysis of your staff's overall effort in this recruiting cycle.
Mattare: B-...This was not a disaster of a class nor was it one to put in the trophy case. It was a solid effort but lacked that one splash signing (Ferguson, Christian Jones, or Henderson) that would've pushed this up to a B+. I think all things considered the coaching staff did a good job limiting damage and reeling some prospects that project well into Kelly's system. When you compare this haul to Weis' when he inherited Willingham's disaster of a class in the winter of '04 it stacks up far better (in quality and quantity).
Something that will be very interesting to watch is how the bottom half of this class (in terms of ratings from the recruiting services) turns out. Kelly took on a lot of guys that weren't even on Weis' radar and aren't necessarily considered to be "blue-chip" prospects, but he prides himself on his ability to spot and develop talent. A lot of people are of the opinion that he should have saved a few scholarships for next year when he had an entire cycle to entice the top prospects in the country to South Bend.
Was it the right move taking on those two or three extra two and three star guys? That's one of those things we'll have to wait and see a few years from now. Kelly wasn't just handing out scholarships for the sake of handing them out, he obviously sees potential in these kids. I like to stay away from the hyperbole and dramatic statements that have been flying around over the past few months, but we'll know a lot about how successful the Kelly is going to be if we're talking about a few of these three stars emerging as serious contributors three years down the road. It's not a matter of whether Tai-ler Jones or Louis Nix or Matt James steps up; it's if Roback, Heggie, Schwenke, or Nichols turn out to be more than roster fillers.
Bill: B+...Very good class for us, the only reason I'm not awarding it an 'A' is because of what could have been. We once again failed to close on big time recruits. The best prospect in PA Shariff Floyd went out of state to Florida, Dominique Easley was committed to us for a long time before jumping ship to the gators a la Jelani Jenkins last year. Easley fishily earned a top 10 Rivals ranking after committing to the Gators, which even further inflated their class. Marcus Lattimore had us in his top 3 until the very end before dropping us.
Penn State has a ton to offer to these kids and I think they engage them very well initially. We are a big time program with good academics, great facilities, and rich in tradition. We can get these kids to buy in to our team philosophy and Joe is very particular about the character of the kids we recruit (see Adrian Coxson this year). Having said all that, at some point we need to look these kids in the eye and tell them we can win a national championship, and they have to believe us. They are aware of the rankings Rivals and ESPN give them, and I think they think that 5 star recruits go to the SEC, USC, Texas Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, and yes even Notre Dame. I'm not sure that a player considers Penn State when he learns that he is considered elite.
Overall, I am happy with the effort of our staff this year, Joe was going to make an in home visit to Lattimore before he graciously declined. The last player he did that for was Pryor.
2. Who was the most important recruit you got this year?
Mattare: It has to be Louis Nix. Notre Dame had big needs on both lines but the larger hole was on the defensive side of the ball. Nix (6-3, 320lbs) is the monster in the middle that the Irish sorely need to run an effective 3-4 defense. In fact, he'll be the first player we've employed at the position that hasn't been undersized since probably the mid-90's (Brian Hamilton maybe? Hilliard and Campbell? Even then we ran a 4-3, I'm just talking pure interior size). He's the type of space eater that frees up playmakers like Manti Te'o and Darius Fleming to wreak havoc because he commands a double team on every down. Nix isn't a guy who will instantly transform a defense from bad to good (a la Gerald McCoy), but he'll be entrenched as a starter by his sophomore campaign.
Bill: Tie between Paul Jones and Robert Bolden. Our depth chart was looking pretty abysmal before we landed those two. If Kevin Newsome went down we were going to be starting walk-on Matt McGloin. The Pat Devlin transfer remains a big deal. From what I've read about Jones and Bolden, Bolden is the more athletic of the two and might have the stronger arm but Jones had excellent Army AA bowl practices and they actually ranked him as having the strongest arm there (Bolden wasn't there). Bolden wants to play as a freshman but Jones has already enrolled and Kevin Newsome has the upper hand in experience as a sophomore, which we all know plays a huge role in depth chart decisions for the Lions. Between Newsome, Jones, and Bolden I don't have a favorite, I just hope we start the right guy.
3. Which player that you couldn't reel in stings the most?
Mattare: There were quite a few stings this recruiting cycle. We thought we had great shots at Seantrel Henderson, Kyle Prater, and Anthony Barr but they all ended up in Los Angeles. We also had a few 4-star prospects committed (Lueders and Bernard) that bailed late in the process. But the one that stung the most has to be Chris Martin. He committed last year on signing day and spent the entire spring and summer proclaiming how he bled blue and gold. He talked trash to USC recruits, he dominated every camp he attended, and was well on his way to being one of the most beloved Irish players of the next decade.
Then he began to waffle and the slippery and seemingly inevitable slope to decommitment began. The week after Weis was let go Martin followed him out the door. Yet again the Irish were spurned by their top defensive commit (see: Hunter, Omar and Trattou, Justin...burn in hell Urban Meyer). Martin is the elite type of playmaker on the defensive side of the ball that we've whiffed on time and time again over the past five years. Martin and Te'o at linebacker could have been the defensive version of Floyd and Tate. This is where Bill Simmons would say something like "I will now light myself on fire." I'll go grab some matches.
Bill: Dominique Easley, especially since our defensive line coach is by far our best recruiter. We needed to land a big time player at DT or DE. We got two solid guys in CJ Olaniyan and Dakota Royer, but the experts are gushing over Easley and calling him a special talent. You can't afford to whiff on those guys.
4. Who do you see making an immediate impact this fall?
Mattare: There's no one in this class that's on the level of Michael Floyd and Manti Te'o in terms of being so talented that they immediately must be on the field. I think there are two candidates who could emerge as contributors though: Chris Badger and Tommy Rees. Badger is a hard hitting, intelligent safety who will have every opportunity to snatch a starting position an an early-enrollee this spring. There's a gaping hole at both safety positions (especially if Harrison Smith ends up staying at linebacker) and an alarming lack of bodies so he's already in the two-deep. He has the best chance of any freshman to find his way into the starting lineup this fall. If he doesn't seize a position though there's no doubt he'll make a dent on special teams.
Now Rees making an impact is more of a worst case scenario. I really think that Tommy Rees could emerge as the best quarterback from this class, but the only reason he'd be making an impact this fall is if Dayne Crist is not on the field. That would be a terrible, terrible thing. Should Dayne not be ready to go then the spotlight will be turned on Tommy Boy (Is it too early for a Tommy Gun nickname? Carl, should a nickname from Rocky V be allowed?). He's a coach's son with a good arm and he'll be way ahead of the rest of the quarterback quartet due to the fact that he's already on-campus this spring. If we have any sort of luck we won't have to see too much of him though.
Bill: This is an easy one. Either Jones or Bolden. If pressed to pick one I would say Paul Jones because he's already enrolled. This team is pretty deep across the board so I don't see anyone getting on the field too early. Mike Hull may see some time on special teams, but it is almost a certainty that one of these two true freshman will be #2 QB on the depth chart for the 2010 season. Please God, don't let Jay Paterno destroy these young careers.
5. Give us a sleeper or two that may emerge from this class.
Mattare: I really like Tate Nichols. The kid played tight end in high school but is shifting to offensive tackle. According to Brian Kelly, Nichols has already put on sixty pounds from the last time he'd seen him, weighing in at 292. He's very athletic for a guy his size (he's 6-7 in addition to being almost three bills) and a tough, aggressive blocker who goes 100mph until the whistle blows. It'll take him a couple years to learn the ins and outs of the position, but he's exactly the type of project that Kelly loves to take on. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if either Lombard or James gets bumped from tackle to guard in order to make room for Nichols in the lineup down the road.
Bill: Shyquawn Pullium from Erie, PA! Safety! Bob Sanders reincarnate! I love this kid's numbers: 6'1" 180 lbs 4.5 40 (rumored that he has run a sub 4.4). Obviously my biggest fear here is that they turn him into a cornerback or receiver. No one plays safety for 4 years at Penn State. They always get shuffled around. "Good football instincts" buried somewhere else on the depth chart seems to be the fast track to starting at safety for us. I totally disagree with this, let the kid start and finish his career there and let's see how valuable an athletic safety with knowledge of the position can be for us.
A second sleeper here may be Levi Norwood, solely because of his bloodline. Why wouldn't I want another 4 seasons of the-softest-hands-in-the-world play from a Norwood?
ON TO THE RAPID FIRE FINISH
Mattare: It's been almost a month since our last dual post and PSU basketball has run their Big 10 record to a staggering 0-11. What happened to your boys? Does it have anything to do with the fact that Talor Battle spells his first name wrong?
Bill: No. Everyone else spells it wrong. We are so bad, I guess losing Jamelle Cornley hurt more than expected
Bill: I have 150:1 odds that someone from The Who smashes their guitar on the drummer. Does that make me a bad person?
Mattare: No, it just makes you one of the 150 people who will have an interest in the halftime show.
Mattare: So I'm assuming that you're watching Puppy Bowl VI on Animal Planet like I am right now. What was the bigger addition to this year's contest: the bunny cheerleaders or the hamster-operated Twizzlers blimp?
Bill: I'm actually not watching but hamster-operated blimp sounds delightful.
Bill: Has the realization that there are seven months before college football starts again hit you yet? How do you plan to pass the time?
Mattare: Dissect every spring practice report until I get sick, then start playing golf in April and qualify for the US Open at Pebble Beach in June. That'll do.
Mattare: In two weeks four of A-Town's finest (plus Ross Baker) will be invading Orlando. How do you see the weekend playing out? Will your roommates ever speak to you again?
Bill: Not worried about roommates, worried about neighbors, jail, bouncers, vodka, and futures. And sun poisoning.
Bill: Today during the Pens-Caps game the announcers said DC is a "hockey town." Thoughts?
Mattare: On a scale of 1-10 in DC, the Redskins are a 20, the Caps are a 7, the Wiz are a 1, and the Nats are a -5.