Penn State Nittany Lions: Syracuse Orange

Top position classes: QBs 

February, 10, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
The Florida Gators had a major need at quarterback in the Class of 2014, and Will Muschamp and staff more than filled it, signing two of the nation’s top signal-callers. Third-ranked dual-threat prospect Will Grier (Davidson, N.C./Davidson Day School) is already on campus and preparing for spring practice, while No. 7 dual-threat prospect Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) was a huge signing-day flip from Florida State. Both prospects are great athletes who are accustomed to operating uptempo offenses. This should also help newly hired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who will install a similar scheme in Gainesville.

The Gators had the nation's best QB class; here's which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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There are very few schools which are on a roll quite like Penn State is now.

Things started going the Nittany Lions' way when they upset Michigan in a quadruple overtime thriller on Oct. 12.

In the 11 days that have followed, Penn State has seen a boom in recruiting with three more commitments.

That shot in the arm continued Wednesday when three-star inside linebacker Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) flipped from Syracuse and became the 15th member of Penn State’s 2014 class.


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From Wisconsin moving up in the polls to a few schools moving down, it was a busy week in the Big Ten and the class rankings reflect that.

Here’s a look at what conference recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren saw and some trends to follow in the upcoming weeks:

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Video: Penn State-Syracuse wrap

August, 31, 2013
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Brian Bennett wraps up Penn State's 23-17 win over Syracuse.


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A pair of new starting quarterbacks in an opening game led to a predictably choppy afternoon at MetLife Stadium on Saturday. It was only a 6-3 game at halftime, but both teams made some big plays in the second half and created some fourth quarter excitement.

In the end, Penn State's defense was a little too good, and the Nittany Lions held on in the final minutes for a 23-17 win.

Here's a brief recap:

It was over when: Penn State's Trevor Williams intercepted Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen at his own 28 with 1:53 left. Syracuse had cut the lead to 23-17 with just under seven minutes remaining but couldn't manage any points on its final two possessions as the Nittany Lions defense held.

Game ball goes to: Penn State's Christian Hackenberg. He wasn't perfect, but as an 18-year-old playing in an NFL stadium in his first game out of high school, he was pretty darn impressive. Hackenberg finished 22-of-31 for 273 yards and two touchdowns, though he also threw two interceptions and barely avoided another that could have been returned for a score. He also didn't have his best weapon for the first half, as star receiver Allen Robinson served a two-quarter suspension for undisclosed reasons. His perfect 54-yard strike to Eugene Lewis for a touchdown with 11:39 left gave Penn State a 23-10 lead and showed why he was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the country a year ago. He fared better than new Syracuse starter and former Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, who started off strong but completed just 17-of-38 passes for 193 yards and two picks of his own.

Stat of the game: Penn State was just 1-of-16 on third downs and had only 57 rushing yards on 38 attempts. Those aren't normally winning numbers. But the Nittany Lions' defense held Syracuse to just 259 total yards.

Unsung hero of the game: Garry Gilliam. Moved from tight end to offensive line this preseason, Gilliam came up with a massive play from a defensive standpoint. Syracuse's Brandon Reddish had stripped the ball from Penn State receiver Allen Robinson, scooped it up and ran the other way. Gilliam was all that stood between Reddish and a go-ahead touchdown, but Gilliam made the tackle at the Penn State 27. The Orange would go on to miss a field goal.

Best call: In the first half, Penn State was lined up for a 47-yard field goal on fourth-and-two. Though Syracuse probably should have been ready for some trickery, Bill O'Brien pulled it off anyway by calling for holder Ryan Keiser to run the ball. Keiser barreled up the right side for five yards. That eventually resulted in a much more manageable 36-yarder for Sam Ficken, who drilled it. Ficken later made a career-long 46-yarder as one of his three made field goals, so maybe the fake wasn't even necessary. Ficken's improvement is a huge difference for this team over this time a year ago.

What Penn State learned: It has a future star in Hackenberg, but the ride isn't always going to be a smooth one as he will be prone to freshman mistakes. His interception late in the fourth quarter allowed Syracuse to get back into the game. The running game must improve so as not to put too much pressure on the youngster. Having Allen Robinson around for a whole game should help, too.

What Syracuse learned: The Orange miss Ryan Nassib and Doug Marrone as much as feared. While Allen had some moments and showed off a nice arm, the offense as a whole lacked much punch or creativity. They'll likely need some of that next week against Northwestern.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Greetings from MetLife Stadium, home of the 2014 Super Bowl. But more importantly for our purposes, home of New York's College Classic.

That's the official billing for today's game between Syracuse and Penn State. The Orange are technically the home team here, but the real battle for New York City might commence next year when the Big Ten tries to elbow into the market with Rutgers. Today could be a good trial run for that, and I saw plenty of Penn State tailgaters in the parking lots this morning. (I think I saw Jimmy Hoffa out there, too, but that is unconfirmed.)

That's all off-the-field stuff, however. This should be an excellent opening game that answers some questions we've had all offseason for both teams. The Nittany Lions debut a new quarterback -- reportedly Christian Hackenberg, but we might not get an official announcement before kickoff -- and open Year 2 of the Bill O'Brien era, minus some of the iconic senior leaders from last season. Syracuse has a new head coach in Scott Shafer -- known to Big Ten fans as a former Michigan defensive coordinator in one ugly year under Rich Rodriguez -- plus a new league (the ACC) and its own new starting quarterback, the identity of whom also is being kept under wraps.

What should we expect of Hackenberg today? Don't forget he is an 18-year-old true freshman, though a wildly talented one. With most coaches, I'd say that the game plan would be conservative with a first time starter in there. But O'Brien is so aggressive and fearless that I wouldn't be surprised to see Hackenberg throw it 20-to-25 times and take some deep shots. When you've got Allen Robinson and those tight ends, why not?

The heat wave that is gripping much of Big Ten country today has mostly spared us, as temperatures are expected to be about 83 degrees. It will still be muggy, but compared to some other places, it's not too bad. Of course, you worry about Penn State's depth as it goes full speed in the humid conditions, but I don't expect it to be too big of an issue. Both teams have to deal with it, after all.

I'm more interested in seeing how Penn State's defense looks, especially in the secondary, and how Syracuse rebuilds its offense in the post-Doug Marrone, post-Ryan Nassib era. A lot of questions will begin to be answered today.

Video: Game of the week

August, 29, 2013
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Brian Bennett looks at the game of the week in the Big Ten: Penn State vs. Syracuse.

Big Ten recruiting storylines: Aug. 22 

August, 22, 2013
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Big Ten fodder is never hard to find, especially in recruiting. Here’s a look at a few programs that highlighted a busy recruiting week:

Cotton getting close

Linebacker Micquell Cotton (O’Fallon, Ill./O’Fallon) has narrowed his list down to Indiana and Iowa State. The three-star back holds offers from both schools as well as Syracuse and Michigan State.

Cotton has visited both already and will take official visits this fall before making a pick.
The Cyclones have some appeal with a solid 2014 class that includes ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale), running back Tommy Mister (Chicago/St. Rita) and a few other good looking commitments.

We’ll see where things stand after he takes his trips.

Iowa adds cornerback

Cornerback Josh Jackson (Corinth, Texas/Lake Dallas) committed to Iowa on Thursday. He confirmed his commitment in a text message.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior becomes Iowa's 13th commit and the unranked defensive back becomes the third player to be taken in the secondary in the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class. He joins cornerback Omar Truitt (Washington, D.C./St. John’s College) and safety Jyaz Jones (Dallas/South Oak). Jackson’s commitment continues the youth movement at Iowa, as six underclassmen will return next season from Iowa’s two-deep chart.

"I think it's going to be great," Jackson said. "With the guys coming in, we'll definitely make a big impact in the Big Ten and for the team."

Defensive end Torey Hendrick (Brooklyn, N.Y./ASA College) hasn’t broken down his top five yet, but the junior college sensation already knows one he’ll take a visit to Iowa.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hendrick hasn’t set a date, but Iowa City be a destination. Expect Kansas to maybe earn a visit as well.

Hendrick currently has offers from Arizona State, Florida State, Kansas State, North Carolina State and Rutgers to go with Iowa and Kansas.

Lacrosse commit getting looks
Jason Alessi (Birmingham, Mich./Brother Rice) is committed to Michigan for lacrosse, but that might not be the sport he ends up playing in college as he is starting to get noticed for football as well.

Alessi is a 2014 defensive back who already holds football offers from Cornell and Air Force. He has heard from Yale, Harvard and most recently Michigan State.

The 6-foot, 170-pound safety took a visit to East Lansing last week and is now waiting for the Spartans to make a move. The coaching staff told him they want to watch film on his first few games this coming season and then make a decision.

If he has a good start to the season the Spartans might not be the only team to come calling.

Linebacker U looking again
Penn State has opened up its search to replace outside linebacker Jared Wangler (Warren, Mich./De La Salle), who decommitted from the Nittany Lions before pledging to Michigan.

With Syracuse commit Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) already in the mix of candidates, Penn State has offered outside backer Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central). That means Northwestern has some company in landing the standout as Lee will travel to California on an official visit when the Golden Bears play the Wildcats on Aug. 31. Lee currently has a top five of Cal, Louisville, Northwestern, Oregon and Virginia Tech.

London a wanted man

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Hjalte FroholdtBrad Bournival/ESPNHjalte Froholdt, the No. 14 player in the ESPN Junior 300, will be playing his junior season in his native Denmark but will have plenty of suitors waiting for his return to the United States.
There are currently 34 Midwest prospects -- 15 from Ohio -- within the ESPN Junior 300. Not a single one of them has pledged an allegiance to a school as of yet.

That means the dogfight is already on, as Big Ten schools and others around the country prepare for an 18-month battle for some of the best.

As is usually the case, the Midwest will bring some interesting storylines over the next few years as the focus will shift to the heartland for some of the biggest names at the high school level.

In keeping with Tuesday’s theme, here are the top 11 prospects out of the Midwest and where they’re at in the process.


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Pitt assistant Desmond Robinson had visited plenty of high schools and prospects like this before -- the too-good-to-be-true kind.

He arrived on an early April morning in Buffalo, N.Y., an aging industrial town where wing-flipping pubs dot most street corners, to see one such prospect: a 6-foot-1, 225-pound tailback who could allegedly run a flat-4.5. See, it's not uncommon for high school coaches and recruits to fudge those numbers a little. A 6-1, 225-pound recruit might wind up actually being 5-10, 190.


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Every weekday over the next three weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Syracuse.

If there's one team on PSU's schedule that has as many -- or, possibly, more -- question marks, it's Syracuse. With a new head coach, a new quarterback and a new conference, this season-opening matchup should be an interesting one.


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T.J. Wheatley Jr. (Buffalo, N.Y./Canisius) has moved around more often than an Army brat.

He's followed his father and current Buffalo Bills' assistant coach, Tyrone Wheatley, from New Jersey to Florida, from California to Michigan (in three different homes) and then, finally, to New York. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound tight end/defensive end is still unpacking some boxes after his most recent switch from Syracuse to Buffalo, when his father was promoted from college assistant to NFL coach.

But the next move the ESPN Junior 300 prospect makes? That'll finally be up to just T.J.


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During the evaluation period, 2015 tailback Andre Robinson (Harrisburg, Pa./Bishop McDevitt) would chat with a different coach every day before rushing home and googling the school on his computer.

Sometimes, three coaches would arrive in one day. Sometimes, just one. But he'd always head to his bedroom and then at least look up the school's offensive style -- how much it rushed the ball -- and how long a coach had stayed at a certain school to gauge his trustworthiness. From there, the tailback who attended the same school as Jameel Poteat, LeSean McCoy and Ricky Watters formed a base of schools he likes -- and Penn State made the cut.


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BEAVERTON, Ore. -- FBI agent Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) might eventually be his title, but he's a high school defensive tackle for now. The ESPN 150 prospect says he hopes to study criminal justice in college with a minor in sociology and would love to one day be a special agent.

Holley also is a year ahead in terms of his high school credits, so he's currently working on AP courses and earning an honors diploma.

"I loved AP psychology, and I've been taking AP credits so I can graduate early," he said. "That way I can get ahead in college credits, because my goal is to graduate in three and a half years. So I can either start working for the NFL combine or working on my masters."

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With 15 offers, Qadree Ollison (Buffalo, N.Y./Canisius) felt it was time to trim his list some. He did that Monday when he named a top five.


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Penn State 2015 Class Debuts At No. 3
Craig Haubert discusses recent additions to the Nittany Lions' 2015 class and first-year coach James Franklin's success on the recruiting trail.Tags: Adam McLean, Ryan Bates, Penn State Nittany Lions, James Franklin
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