Penn State Nittany Lions: Chris Godwin

Every night, as Saeed Blacknall's head hits his pillow, his mind races through the same scenario.

Every night, the details are identical. And, every night, Penn State's incoming freshman receiver relives his future career's first touchdown. He laughs while running through the scenario aloud, because he already has imagined it dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of times. And he won't even report to campus until June 28.

Christian Hackenberg is throwing me a bomb right in front of the student section, and they're all cheering. I just see them all. And It's just like, 'Wow, I can't believe this is happening.' I finally touch my foot in the end zone, and then I run back to the sideline and I see Coach [Josh] Gattis. We jump in the air, and he tells me congratulations on my first touchdown. I see that all the time.

Blacknall, an ESPN 300 receiver, can't shake how much he might contribute this season or how much the Nittany Lions will be counting on him -- in part because James Franklin and the staff won't let him, or any of the other incoming freshmen, forget.

Blacknall texts with Gattis, the receivers coach, about every other day, and the assistant never fails to mention how much the Nittany Lions are expecting from him. Cornerback Grant Haley said he received a direct tweet just last week from his position coach, "Keep looking at that playbook, and be ready to go." And offensive tackle Noah Beh said he received a text in the last week or two that said, "We wish we had you now for spring ball because numbers are low."

"Coach Franklin definitely makes that known anytime we're on campus," incoming wide receiver Chris Godwin said. "He lets us know that, that we're going to play a big role in this team's success and this team's future."

With limited depth and 10 fewer scholarships, the remnants of sanctions from two years ago, Franklin has responded vocally when asked how he plans to overcome the disadvantage. Bill O'Brien's plan two seasons ago was that the non-scholarship athletes needed to run, not walk, and referred to them as run-ons. Franklin is telling this freshman class -- constantly -- that it needs to arrive in Happy Valley at a full sprint.

"We're going to have to play a lot of freshmen," Franklin said Saturday. "I typically prefer not to do that, but I've already been direct-messaging these guys and telling them they need to come in in with the mentality they need to play."

Few positions at Penn State boast the benefit of depth. Franklin was already forced to move two defensive tackles to the offensive line because of numbers, and the leading returning wideout started four games and finished with just 18 catches. It's an issue that Franklin knows will only be solved with time -- and the next few freshman classes.

And this 2014 group, ranked No. 24 in the nation by ESPN, isn't blind to the plight; Franklin's staff has tried to ensure that with weekly phone calls, texts or Twitter messages. And these freshmen have taken it upon themselves now to remind each other.

Beh milled around a friend's living room on Sunday during March Madness. While his friends watched their brackets fall apart, the offensive tackle continued to group-text with his fellow freshmen. In all, Beh believed about 50 texts were sent Sunday. It's a daily occurrence. And, Beh said, nearly every topic centers around how this freshman class needs to prepare to contribute come August.

"It's just a timing thing. I don't want to say it's up to us, but I think there's a kind of pressure on us that we need to step up," Beh said. "All of us, all of us need to get ready. We all have a chance to contribute our first year."

Four of Penn State's freshmen said Franklin never mentions the word "redshirt." It's not really a luxury the Nittany Lions have; even last season, 54 percent of the Lions' roster consisted of true and redshirt freshmen. And Penn State came away with the last two Big Ten freshman of the year awards. So, players like Haley and Blacknall have tacked extra workouts onto their day so they can continue the streak.

Haley takes it all one step further. The cornerback -- who turned down offers from the likes of Florida and South Carolina -- rolls out of bed at 5 every morning, drives to his Georgia high school and works out for two hours before the first bell rings. Blacknall will run through track practice after school and, depending on the day, either will hit the weight room or perform some footwork drills and text his coach a clip or two.

It's rinse-and-repeat for Blacknall. Every night, he'll come home, head to bed -- and think about how the Nittany Lions already are depending on him. He'll run through that dream scenario. And he can't wait for those daydreams to become reality.

"It's unreal," Blacknall said. "I catch myself thinking about this all the time and, every time I talk to [Franklin] or when he talks to my family, he just reminds us how important this freshman class is. ... I can't wait to get up there."
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
Tags:

Nebraska Cornhuskers, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Wisconsin Badgers, Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Football Recruiting, Indiana Hoosiers, Maryland Terrapins, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Adam Breneman, Allen Robinson, Kyle Carter, Jesse James, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jacob Pedersen, Jared Abbrederis, Josh Ferguson, Kenny Bell, Devin Funchess, Devin Smith, Kenzel Doe, Ted Bolser, Aaron Burbridge, Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, Corey Brown, Shane Wynn, Richy Anderson, Chris Godwin, Jamal Turner, Jeremy Gallon, Jalin Marshall, Dan Vitale, Garrett Dickerson, Saeed Blacknall, Danny Etling, Dontre Wilson, James Clark, Austin Appleby, Drake Harris, Drew Dileo, Isaac Fruechte, Gabe Holmes, Quincy Enunwa, Jordan Fredrick, Danny Anthrop, Johnnie Dixon, Cameron Dickerson, Alex Erickson, Martize Barr, Amara Darboh, Geronimo Allison, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Geno Lewis, Tony Jones, Christian Jones, Justin Sinz, Nick Stoner, Steve Hull, MacGarrett Kings, Brandon Felder, Jake Duzey, Maxx Williams, Jordan Westerkamp, Donovahn Jones, Sam Burtch, Dominique Booth, DeAngelo Yancey, Josiah Price, Damond Powell, Brandon Coleman, Deon Long, Michael Thomas, Stefon Diggs, B1G spring positions 14, Amba Etta-Tawo, Andre Patton, Cameron Posey, Carlton Agudosi, Cethan Carter, Dave Stinebaugh, Drew Wolitarsky, Duwyce Wilson, Evan Spencer, Isaiah Roundtree, Jehu Chesson, Jon Davis, Jordan Fuchs, Keith Mumphery, Leonte Carroo, Levern Jacobs, Marcus Leak, Matt LaCosse, Miles Shuler, Nigel King, Quron Pratt, Robert Wheelwright, Ruhann Peele, Sam Arneson, Taariq Allen, Tevaun Smith, Tony Lippett, Tyler Kroft

Earlier today, we listed 10 incoming Big Ten recruits -- five here and five here -- who we think could make an immediate impact during the 2014 season. Part of this is based on talent and part on position need, as projecting how first-year players perform can be somewhat of a crapshoot.

You've heard from us. Now it's time for you to pick the player most likely to impact his team this season.

Here are the choices:

SportsNation

Which incoming Big Ten recruit will make the biggest impact in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 6,447)

Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State: Godwin and other incoming wideouts have a chance to contribute right away, as Penn State brings back only one receiver (Geno Lewis) who had more than 15 receptions in 2013. Has good size and strength to transition to the college level.

Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota: Has a proven player in front of him in 1,200-yard rusher David Cobb, but Jones is the most decorated recruit of the Jerry Kill era and adds another weapon to an offense that needs more of them.

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State: The top-ranked inside linebacker in the 2014 class (No. 13 overall), he plays a position of significant need for the Buckeyes, who lose All-American Ryan Shazier.

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan: Highest-rated Big Ten player in the 2014 class (No. 2 overall by ESPN RecruitingNation). Could contribute on both sides of the ball as well as on special teams, and brings a playmaking presence to the Wolverines secondary.

Damian Prince, OT, Maryland: True freshmen rarely make an impact on the offensive line, but Prince isn't an ordinary freshman. Highest-rated offensive line recruit in the Big Ten -- No. 26 overall in the 2014 class -- and could help a Maryland offense transitioning to a more physical league.

Those are the choices. Time to vote.

B1G's top impact true freshmen

February, 13, 2014
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The Big Ten's 2014 recruiting classes are signed and sealed -- for the most part, at least. The next question many of you ask is which incoming freshmen or junior-college players will make the biggest immediate impact for the 2014 season.

It's always a bit tricky projecting which recruits will make a big splash right away, as some will fall in line behind veteran players while others might be forced into big roles because of depth issues. Talent certainly plays a role on who sees the field the earliest, and so does need.

Here are five players (in alphabetical order) who I expect to see early and often in 2014. Note: Malik McDowell would have made the list, but the possibility (albeit slim) that he signs with Florida State prevents it.

Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State: The Lions have a dynamic quarterback in Christian Hackenberg, but wide receiver suddenly is a major need after Allen Robinson, the two-time Big Ten wide receiver of the year, entered the NFL draft. Robinson recorded 97 receptions last season, and no other Lions player had more than 28. The good news is Penn State loaded up at receiver in the 2014 class, and Godwin should be in the mix for major playing time right away. The 6-foot-2, 203-pound Godwin has a physical style that should help him transition to the college game.

[+] EnlargeJeff Jones
Tom Hauck/ESPNESPN 300 running back Jeff Jones has the potential to be an immediate contributor at Minnesota.
Jeff Jones, RB, Minnesota: The Gophers return a 1,200-yard rusher in David Cobb, so the need for Jones might not be overly pressing. But Jones' surge both during his senior season and afterward, when he claimed MVP honors at the Under Armour All-America Game, boost his chances of making a splash right away. Minnesota established itself as a run-first team in 2013, and the uncertainty at the quarterback position could push the Gophers even more toward the ground game this fall. The 6-foot, 198-pound Jones is the most decorated recruit of the Jerry Kill era and provides a spark to an offense that needs more dynamic components.

Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State: Here's a case of a supremely talented player -- ESPN RecruitingNation rates McMillan as the nation's top linebacker and No. 13 overall player -- who plays a position of extreme need. Ohio State has had depth issues at linebacker throughout Urban Meyer's tenure and loses All-American Ryan Shazier, who led the team in tackles (143), tackles for loss (22.5) and forced fumbles (4) last season. The departure of Mike Mitchell, a top linebacker recruit in the 2013 class, underscores the need for capable 'backers. The 6-2, 249-pound McMillan looks the part and should be able to help right away as a between-the-tackles run defender.

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan: Brady Hoke has brought in other decorated recruits at Michigan, but Peppers has that can't-miss, no-doubt quality about him. Michigan will get this guy on the field right away, if not as a full-time starter in the secondary then on special teams, where he could be an explosive returner. The 6-1, 205-pound Peppers also could moonlight on offense after rushing for 43 touchdowns during his prep career. The nation's No. 2 overall recruit, according to ESPN RecruitingNation, Peppers brings the skills and playmaking ability to boost a defense took a step backward against the pass in 2013.

Jihad Ward, DT, Illinois: There's no secret why Illinois brought in five junior-college players in the 2014 class, as the upcoming season is pivotal for coach Tim Beckman. Repairing the nation's 110th-ranked defense is the top priority, and Ward should be able to help up front. The 6-6, 285-pound Ward is a big body in the middle who recorded 10 sacks in his junior college career. There are ample opportunities along the line after Illinois struggled so much against the run (116th nationally), and the Illini need Ward and the other jucos to be as good as advertised.

We'll have five more potential instant-impact players later today.

Top position classes: WR 

February, 12, 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)
While the Baylor Bears had an exceptional wide receiver class, the nod here goes to LSU. Not only did the Tigers sign the nation's No. 1 receiver in Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), but also the No. 3 ranked receiver in Trey Quinn (Lake Charles, La./Barbe) and ESPN 300 No. 271 D.J. Chark (Alexandria, La./Alexandria Senior) and No. 283 Tony Upchurch (Pearland, Texas/Dawson). In Dupre, LSU snagged the No. 17 prospect overall on signing day. He has a tall, lengthy frame with a near ideal size-and-speed combination and elite high-point ball skills. Quinn will enter LSU as an advanced route-runner with separation skills and the ability to pluck the ball outside of the framework of his body. Chark brings initial quickness and the vertical speed to take the top off a defense, and Upchurch is a big body who continues to add bulk and could eventually transition to a flex type of position.

The Tigers had the nation’s best wide receiver class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:


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Penn State positions to improve: No. 3

February, 12, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- We've made it to the middle of this week's countdown, and this next position shouldn't come as much of a surprise. This group is now without Penn State's MVP.

No. 3: Wide receivers

[+] EnlargeGeno Lewis
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsGeno Lewis' 18 catches as a redshirt freshman makes him the leading returning wide receiver for Penn State.
The players: Geno Lewis (18 catches, 234 yards), Richy Anderson (13 catches, 111 yards), Matt Zanellato (4 catches, 53 yards), Jake Kiley (played in one game), DaeSean Hamilton (redshirted), De'Andre Thompkins (early enrollee), Chris Godwin (incoming freshman), Saeed Blacknall (incoming freshman), Troy Apke (incoming freshman)

Last season: Allen Robinson finished with the best statistical receiving year in Penn State history. He broke the school's single-season records for both receptions (97) and receiving yards (1,432) on his way to earning his second straight honor as Big Ten receiver of the year. He accounted for about 46 percent of the passing offense -- the most a single PSU receiver's been relied on in more than 25 years -- while Brandon Felder, a senior in 2013, finished second with 28 catches for 312 yards. Robinson was among the best receivers in the nation, but Christian Hackenberg had few reliable targets outside of him who weren't listed at tight end.

What's missing: A-Rob and experience. One quick look at the returning players is all it takes to understand what Penn State's going up against. Four of the nine scholarship wideouts are true freshmen, and only one -- Zanellato -- is an upperclassman. Lewis is the closest thing to a proven commodity, and he needs to improve his route-running for PSU to experience any hint of success here. The future looks bright with one of the nation's top classes of incoming freshmen, but without Robinson there's obviously going to be a drop-off at this position.

Moving forward: Lewis is the only returning wideout who played in every game last year, so he certainly appears to be the No. 1 -- unless a true freshman can usurp him. James Franklin is going to need those true freshmen to do a lot of heavy lifting this season because there's really no alternative. Zanellato and Anderson will play, but neither is the gamebreaker that Thompkins, Godwin or Blacknall have the potential to be. Thompkins played more tailback than receiver in high school -- catching just 44 balls in the last three seasons -- so he could become the early No. 2 if he learns quickly in the spring. A breakout spring for him would go a long way in putting this staff's minds at ease.

Penn State recruiting roundtable

February, 6, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- National signing day is finally in the books, so we decided to take a closer look at the Nittany Lions' 2014 recruiting class.

Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren and I got together to discuss and answer these questions:

What surprised or impressed you the most about this class?

Tom VanHaaren: I know it's not surprising for prospects to follow a coach to the new school when there's a coaching change, but I was somewhat surprised in this case. James Franklin got five former Vanderbilt commits to join him at Penn State, which is significant. One of those commitments, Chance Sorrell, committed to Penn State essentially sight unseen. That says a lot about how these prospects feel about Franklin.

[+] EnlargeDe'Andre Thompkins
Courtesy of IntersportESPN 300 ATH De'Andre Thompkins has major upside, but he might take time to adjust to playing WR.
Josh Moyer: By far, I'm most impressed with the receivers. It's one of the best groups in the nation; Penn State has three wideouts in the ESPN 300 (De'Andre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin) and another prospect (Troy Apke) who's on the cusp of being a four-star prospect. Last January, a lot of recruiting analysts expected PSU to pick up one -- maybe two -- receivers. Nobody quite saw this coming.

Who is Penn State's best commit outside of the ESPN 300?

TVH: I really like four-star running back Johnathan Thomas and tight end Mike Gesicki, a three-star commit. Gesicki was targeted by some big schools, including Ohio State, and should eventually be a contributor on offense. At 6-foot-5, 215 pounds, Gesicki has really good size and should fit in well at Penn State.

JM: Count me in on the Gesicki bandwagon. Former coach Bill O'Brien felt he was the best tight end in the nation, and James Franklin emphasized he wouldn't pigeonhole his personnel. His system will fit the players, not the other way around, and that should be great news to a talent like Gesicki. Linebacker Troy Reeder is also a big-time player and, because of Penn State's depth, could see considerable time by 2015.

Who is most likely to contribute as a true freshman?

TVH: I think it's probably Thompkins or Blacknall. Both are really good receivers, and Thompkins is already enrolled and on campus. With Allen Robinson leaving for the NFL there is opportunity to get some playing time early, so I think those two have a chance.

JM: I think it's definitely going to be a receiver -- but I'm going with Godwin and Blacknall. I think Thompkins is in a similar position that Geno Lewis was in as a true freshman. Both were highly ranked in the ESPN 300, both were athletes playing wideout, and neither played wideout in high school. Lewis needed a redshirt season to get accustomed to the position and, in a similar vein, Thompkins is just not as polished as some of his counterparts right now. Thompkins enrolled early and has a lot of upside, but I think Godwin's a safer bet right now.

Moving forward, how does James Franklin compare to Bill O'Brien as a recruiter?

TVH: It's tough to compare the two because of a few factors. O'Brien was dealing with the sanctions when he was hired and had to overcome those issues. He also held on to Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman, which was a big deal looking back on it. Franklin is coming in with a lot more positive vibes and excitement around the program. Franklin has already said, though, that he will focus on keeping the in-state prospects home and dominating the region as well. That was an area where O'Brien struggled, whether it was because of the sanctions or not. Franklin should have more success there.

JM: O'Brien wasn't a salesman. He tried to be straightforward, was a great evaluator of talent and an even better coach. Franklin is a salesman. He's charismatic, confident and isn't afraid to go after players in Florida or California. He's definitely casting a wider net than O'Brien. If both coaches were on a level playing field, with no sanctions, I'm not sure who would come out on top. But, because of the foundation O'Brien built, I have no doubt Franklin will have more success recruiting than his predecessor.

Overview: PSU 2014 offensive signees

February, 5, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The fax machine in Happy Valley has finally stopped whirring, and the list of signees now appears finalized.

So here's a closer look at the offensive players from Penn State's Class of 2014. PSU's five early enrollees can be found here.

WR Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J.)

Four stars (Scout grade: 83), ESPN 300, No. 118 overall, No. 14 at position

Committed: Jan. 26, 2014

Top offers: Alabama, Florida State, Rutgers

Synopsis: He's the headliner of the Wednesday signees. (Yes, De'Andre Thompkins is ranked above him, but enrolled early.) Blacknall originally committed to Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights might have gone a little too long without an offensive coordinator. During his official visit there, one still wasn't in place. He was Rutgers' top commit and is now a notch in Franklin's proverbial recruiting belt.

Scouting report Insider: Is a consistent playmaker with the ball in his hands.

Chris Godwin
Miller Safrit/ESPNChris Godwin is a headliner in Penn State's class at wide receiver.
WR Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown)

Four stars (Scout grade: 83), ESPN 300, No. 159 overall, No. 21 at position

Committed: April 23, 2013

Top offers: Ohio State, South Carolina, Stanford

Synopsis: He and Thompkins are close -- and the two wanted to stay together. About a week before Franklin became head coach, Godwin told ESPN.com that Franklin was the coach he was hoping for. He represented Penn State at the Under Armour Game.

Scouting report Insider: Can be a vertical threat due to size and elevation, but might struggle to stretch and separate at next level.

RB Johnathan Thomas (Danvers, Mass./Saint John's Prep)

Four stars (Scout grade: 80), No. 44 at position

Committed: Oct. 20, 2013

Top offers: Arkansas, Boston College, Maryland

Synopsis: He attended the same high school as former coach Bill O'Brien, but was originally committed to Maryland. He flipped once PSU offered, however, as he was also a longtime PSU fan. He even sported a Penn State hat at a workout two summers ago. He's also coming off a torn ACL.

Scouting report Insider: Overall, Thomas is a strong, downhill runner with multi-carry, load-back potential.

WR Troy Apke (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon)

Three stars (Scout grade: 79), No. 70 at position

Committed: April 13, 2013

Top offers: Kentucky, Minnesota, Pitt

Synopsis: Penn State fans learned the term "schadenfreude" when the Pitt target in the Panthers' backyard became Penn State's first wideout to commit. He was off the radar as an underclassman because he was part of a run-first team; that changed in a big way during his junior season. He had 54 catches as a junior and 40 as a senior, averaging more than 18 yards a catch both seasons.

Scouting report Insider: Apke is a savvy, smart and tough player who catches everything thrown in the area code.

QB Trace McSorley (Ashburn, Va./Briar Woods)

Three stars (Scout grade: 79), No. 60 at ATH position

Committed: Jan. 20, 2014

Top offers: Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest

Synopsis: McSorley has the ability to play a lot of positions, but Franklin still wants him at quarterback. He's a dual-threat who's been reportedly clocked in the 4.5s, and he could add another wrinkle to the Nittany Lions' future passing offense. He's a very different quarterback than ESPN 300 QB Michael O'Connor, who enrolled early.

Scouting report Insider: He is athletic and has a nose for the ball.

TE Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional)

Three stars (Scout grade: 78), No. 12 at position

Committed: Oct. 17, 2013

Top offers: Ohio State, Florida State, Wisconsin

Synopsis: O'Brien believed he was the best tight end in the nation ... and O'Brien knew his tight ends. Gesicki greatly improved his Scout grade from his junior to senior season, and he chose PSU over an offer from Urban Meyer. He was hosted by Adam Breneman and Christian Hackenberg during his official visit.

Scouting reportInsider: He is a tweener H/WR who, with time in the weight room, could become a better fit on the inside, which would increase his BCS level value.

OT Noah Beh (Scranton, Pa./Scranton Prep)

Three stars (Scout grade: 77), No. 57 at position

Committed: June 1, 2013

Top offers: Boston College, Maryland, Pitt

Synopsis: Beh was recruited by some schools as defensive end, and O'Brien initially wasn't sold on Beh because of his 245-pound weight. He called Beh into his office once in February of last year and didn't offer, but then called him in a second time -- and told Beh he loved his blue-collar attitude and no longer believed the weight was an issue. He has the frame to add the weight.

Scouting report Insider: We feel he could possess a little greater upside as an O-lineman, but will need time to develop and at least a redshirt will likely be needed to add size and continue to develop technique.

RB Nick Scott (Fairfax, Va./Fairfax)

Three stars (Scout grade: 76), No. 107 at position

Committed: Feb. 23, 2013

Top offers: Boston College

Synopsis: ESPN named him one of the top performers at a Nike Football Training Camp, and he was sold on PSU pretty early. In an earlier interview with ESPN.com, Scott was asked when he knew during his visit that he was going to commit. His answer? Crossing the state line to Pennsylvania.

Scouting report Insider: Scott is a pretty exciting weapon as a pass catching running back with the versatility to split out in the slot and be a factor in the passing game.

OT Brendan Brosnan (Park Ridge, Ill./Maine Township South)

Three stars (Scout grade: 75), No. 98 at position

Committed: Jan. 14, 2014

Top offers: Illinois, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt

Synopsis: He flipped from Vanderbilt four days after Franklin became head coach. He said Franklin's energy was a big reason for his commitment and believed that Penn State had the higher ceiling when compared to Vanderbilt.

Scouting report Insider: Brosnan moves well for his size.

RB Mark Allen (Hyattsvile, Md./DeMatha)

Three stars (Scout grade: 73), No. 149 at position

Committed: Oct. 16, 2012

Top offers: N/A

Synopsis: He was the first pledge of this class, and he committed as soon as he received an offer. He tore his ACL as a junior but played a big role in keeping this recruiting class together during the transition to another staff. He said he believed he needed to be a leader because he was the first commit, and he lived up to those expectations.

Scouting report Insider: We see very good change of pace/utility back potential.

OT Chance Sorrell (Middletown, Ohio/Middletown)

Three stars (Scout grade: 70), No. 50 at TE-Y position

Committed: Jan. 11, 2014

Top offers: Louisville, Vanderbilt, West Virginia

Synopsis: He injured his ankle during his junior season and then tore his labrum right before his senior season. That turned off quite a few teams, and that's a big reason Sorrell flew under the radar.

Scouting report Insider: More of a traditional in-line TE and could very well end up developing into an OL at the college level.

Big Ten recruiting roundtable

February, 3, 2014
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National signing day is just 48 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Big Ten recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren spared time from their busy schedules to answer these questions:

Ohio State and Michigan again lead the way in the Big Ten recruiting rankings. How much late drama do you expect with those two programs?

[+] EnlargeMalik McDowell
Tom Hauck for ESPNDE Malik McDowell, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, could come down to a signing day decision between Ohio State and Michigan.
Tom VanHaaren: Probably not much for Michigan as it is really only targeting ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield). McDowell visited Ohio State Jan. 31 and has hosted every head coach in his top four of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

He will take his decision out to signing day, so there is a battle going on there, but there's still a chance he ends up at Michigan State or Florida State. He has kept everything close to the vest and it's anyone's guess as to where he ends up. Ohio State could have a little drama, but that happens when you land top ranked prospects.

Tom Luginbill: I really just expect to see where McDowell falls.

What other Big Ten programs have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Wisconsin. Badgers coach Gary Andersen is adding more speed and athleticism to this class, including QB D.J. Gillins (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault). They would love to close with CB Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation).

TVH: Michigan State has put together a good class. I really like ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) for the Spartans defense. I think Northwestern has put together a really good class as well with three ESPN 300 commitments. The Wildcats added in-state defensive back Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook), which was a big get for them. Illinois did a lot to help fill immediate needs as well. The Illini lose four receivers and brought in some junior college prospects to compete right away.

How much impact has James Franklin made on Penn State's recruiting in a short time?

TVH: It seems to be all positive for now. It's not surprising that he has flipped so many Vanderbilt commitments to Penn State, because he was the coach who recruited them. The recruits, however, that have flipped will all tell you that he is the guy they want to play for. There is already some excitement in the 2015 class and in the Pennsylvania area, so I think Penn State fans are going to be very happy with what Franklin and his staff does in the near future.

TL: Significant, but it should be noted that Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown) all enrolled early prior to his hire, but after Bill O’Brien departed, which tells you of their commitment to the program. Since his hiring, Penn State has added seven verbal commits, including flipping Rutgers commit WR Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./Manalapan) this past week.

How much of an effect, if any, has Michigan State's on-field success had in its recruiting so far?

TL: Minimal. They do what they do. The biggest myth is that they are made up of 2- and 3-star players, which is not true. It has been 4- or 3- star players the past three to four classes The Spartans develop players as well as anyone. They don’t give in to external pressures to recruit anyone and they identify not only good players, but the right players for them.

TVH: It had some impact in the 2014 class, but because that class was already almost over by the time the Spartans won the Rose Bowl, the real affect will likely be on 2015 and 2016 prospects. Michigan State already has one of the top in-state prospects committed with Kyonta Stallworth (St. Clair Shores, Mich./South Lake) and there is a realistic chance the Spartans could land most of the top prospects from the state of Michigan. They have already heard from some prospects that they otherwise would have been out of the running for, so I think 2015 could be where you see some of those affects.

How have Maryland and Rutgers done in recruiting, and are their efforts up to Big Ten standards?

TVH: Rutgers has suffered a lot of decommitments in the 2014 class. It seems like this is a whole new class from what it used to be. The most recent was Blacknall, who flipped to Penn State. Maryland has had a better time recruiting in this class, but is still outside the top 40 in the class rankings. The Terrapins have had a lot of injuries to deal with, so I think once they get healthy and get back on track they will start to see a little more success. Now that they're in the Big Ten they can tell local recruits that they can stay close to home and still play in big stadiums and on national television, which will be a big draw.

TL: Rutgers is crumbling. At one time they had four ESPN 300 prospects and all have decommitted. This is not a good start for the Knights heading into the Big Ten. We very much like the top third of Maryland’s class, and the middle third has upside, but there is a significant drop off in talent in the bottom third, in our opinion.

What teams do you view as disappointing with this class?

TL: Rutgers. The rest have essentially been as expected for the most part.

TVH: Can I cop out and give everyone a trophy? I don't think anyone has a really disappointing class. I imagine Rutgers' coaches aren't thrilled with the way things have gone, but for the Big Ten teams from this season I think most of them have done a really nice job filling needs and getting a few big recruits in the class.

Finally, name a few players who we can expect to have an immediate impact in the 2014 season.

TVH: Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic) is probably the first name that sticks out. He is the No. 2-ranked prospect in the country for a reason and could end being an outstanding college football player once he's done. I expect him to play early in some capacity. Potentially, a guy like Dominique Booth (Indianapolis/Pike) at Indiana at receiver, running back Jeff Jones (Minneapolis/Washburn) if he sticks with Minnesota, Johnnie Dixon (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla./Dwyer) at Ohio State and maybe juco defensive lineman Joe Keels (Kenosha, Wisc./Highland (Kan.) Community College) at Nebraska.

TL: Peppers, (Ohio State LB) Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County) and Jones, if he sticks.
If James Franklin wanted to make a statement on the recruiting trail at Penn State, he has done just that. Franklin and his staff flipped athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame High School) from Cal while on a visit on Saturday, then flipped another prospect to Penn State on Sunday.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manapalan, N.J./Manalapan) switched his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State. He gives the Nittany Lions three ESPN 300 receivers in the 2014 class.



The No. 118-ranked prospect took a visit to Penn State on Jan. 17 and had been thinking about making the switch ever since.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Blacknall will complement De’Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, the two other ESPN 300 receiver commitments in this class. Both Godwin and Blacknall are bigger, physical receivers whereas Thompkins is a more athletic player who could even be a wildcat quarterback in certain plays.

Blacknall hails from New Jersey, which is an area Franklin and his staff are going to make a priority. This was a good commitment to start with for the new staff as Blacknall is now the second highest ranked commit in the class.

The ESPN 300 receiver gives the Nittany Lions 23 commitments for 2014 and some outstanding options at receiver going forward.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 22, 2014
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Winter stinks. Warm me up with some of your emails:

Darren from Spring Hill, Fla., writes: I'd appreciate your thoughts on Indiana's coordinator situation. I've also thought the pecking order in the BCS era is 1. SEC, 2. (3-way tie depending on year) Pac-12/Big 12/Big Ten; 3. ACC 4. Varies. So why would a coordinator leave IU for the same position at UNC (Littrell) ... is the ACC and, say, the Mountain West more appealing than a low-tier Big Ten school? Thanks.

Brian Bennett: While it's somewhat unusual to see a Big Ten coordinator leave for the same job at what is at best a mid-tier program in the ACC, we have to remember Indiana is not exactly a football power. The Hoosiers have been to one bowl game since 1993 and often play in front of a bunch of empty seats, and the program has not historically provided much of a springboard for coaches' careers. So if Seth Littrell wanted to move on after two very successful years, that becomes more understandable.

We also don't yet know the money situation here. Early reports said Littrell would also be named assistant head coach at North Carolina, which suggests a pay raise. Indiana has made a much bigger commitment to football in recent years but still isn't among the top-paying Big Ten schools when it comes to coaches' salaries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is that Littrell -- a former Oklahoma player with deep Sooners ties -- is leaving former Oklahoma coordinator Kevin Wilson's staff to join that of former Oklahoma State play-caller Larry Fedora.


Lachlan from Winterpeg writes: Hey BB, with the hiring of the new assistants at PSU, I see two that stand out to me. The defensive coordinator and the receivers coach. The defense last year had many ups and downs (mostly downs) and bringing in a guy that fielded a top-25 defense last year in the SEC brings in hope. On the other end, a receivers coach that has produced a couple of All-American receivers takes on the task of taking the remaining WR group for PSU that was lackluster last year, and trying to turn them into a threat in the passing game seems challenging. Which of these two do you expect to have a better handle on things being as both have issues to work with, depth with the defense and a group of unproven receivers on the other?

[+] EnlargeBob Shoop
Sean Meyers/Icon SMINew Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop takes over a defense that loses just three starters and he should have plenty of talent to work with this season.
Brian Bennett: Just in terms of talent and experience to work with, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should have an easier go of things right away. Shoop -- whose brother, John, is Purdue's offensive coordinator, giving us a Big Ten Shoop-Shoop -- led a Vanderbilt defense that really was the backbone of that team during its nine-win seasons each of the past two years. While Penn State's defense had its struggles in 2013, the unit loses only three starters (DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson and Malcolm Willis). Shoop will need to develop leaders on that side of the ball and improve the secondary, but there is talent in place.

Receivers coach Josh Gattis has a tougher assignment. No player outside of Allen Robinson really produced a whole lot at wideout for the Nittany Lions last year, and Brandon Felder is gone, too. Geno Lewis has solid potential but still needs polishing. Gattis will likely have to quickly coach up some incoming freshmen such as De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin. The receiver group will have to make a lot of progress this offseason to give Christian Hackenberg some help. Remember, too, that head coach James Franklin has coached receivers in the past, and Penn State has also reportedly hired former Temple receivers coach Terry Smith for an unspecified role. So that position should get a lot of attention.


John from Minneapolis writes: Hey, Brian. In Monday's chat you answered a question about Philip Nelson and stated, " Nelson himself didn't light it up as a passer, but he might not want to run it as much as Minnesota seems to want from its QB. If that's the case, I have no problem with him transferring somewhere else." I understand what you're saying, but whatever happened to sticking with a commitment? It smells like weak character to me. That same attitude is why the divorce rate is 50 percent. That's it, thanks.

Brian Bennett: The problem is that commitment and loyalty too often is a one-way street in college sports. A player such as Nelson is supposed to fulfill his four years to the school, yet coaches can leave at any time and his scholarship is up for renewal every season? And Nelson will have to sit out a year unless he transfers to a lower level. The reality is that college sports is a business, and players have to look out for themselves. If Nelson believes his future will be better served by playing in a different system, more power to him.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: The Gophers certainly are not in the top half of the B1G as far as budget, but they bought not only a quality head coach but a whole staff that will not be easily influenced by a few extra bucks. You have any thoughts about whether Jerry Kill and his staff deserve raises?

Brian Bennett: Kill made a reported $1.2 million last year, which is hardly chump change but still ranked as the lowest in the Big Ten. Minnesota officials said they would work on bumping up Kill's pay this offseason, and Kill would like raises for his assistants, too. After an eight-win season, that staff is definitely in line for some salary increases. The price of keeping a high-quality head coach in the Big Ten is escalating rapidly. The good news for the Gophers is I don't think Kill is looking to leave anytime soon.


Dave from Millstone, N.J., writes: So, Brian. We're BaAAaack. ... When is the date when you'll start covering Rutgers in the blog? We missed you since you bolted the Big East for the B1G -- now we're following you, haunting you, filling your dreams. We're coming; you can't stop it now. Oh, sure, you can change assignments and head to the ACC, where Andrea abandoned us to last year. But we will find you, no matter what. Now write one of you famous opinions on how RU will never be great. Go ahead, make my day! Seriously, looking forward to getting picked on by the big boys of the B1G for a few seasons before we take over. So when's the warm welcome start on the blog?

Brian Bennett: You made me laugh, Dave, so good job. I'm looking forward to reuniting with Rutgers and visiting Piscataway again. Maybe I should start increasing my workouts now in anticipation of hitting a grease truck. We typically incorporate new schools right after signing day. So look for coverage of the Scarlet Knights -- and Maryland -- in the Big Ten blog in just a couple more weeks.

Offseason to-do list: Penn State

January, 22, 2014
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The college football season may be over, but the offseason has just begun. So we're taking an early look at the months ahead by offering three items each Big Ten team must address before the 2014 season kicks off.

Up next is a team that has had the busiest offseason thus far, the Penn State Nittany Lions.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesThe sooner Christian Hackenberg can acclimate to the new offense the better off Penn State will be.
1. Learn new schemes/playbooks. Obviously, there are still quite a few unknowns surrounding Penn State's future offense and defense. New coach James Franklin hasn't been on campus two full weeks yet, after all. But the Nittany Lions will certainly need to catch on quickly if they hope to improve upon last season's 7-5 record. Franklin plans to use a multiple pro-style offense, and Christian Hackenberg said he fully expects the verbiage to be completely different. The transition from Bill O'Brien to Franklin likely won't be as jarring as Joe Paterno to O'Brien, but making the necessary adjustments will be the top priority for this team.

2. Find some options at receiver. For as strong as Penn State's corps of tight ends is, its group of wide receivers is pretty weak. Allen Robinson declared early for the NFL, and he leaves a huge hole at the position. Rising redshirt sophomore Geno Lewis is the leading returning wideout, and he averaged just 19.5 yards a game last season. He's athletic, but his route-running needs some work. Penn State at least boasts a trio of talented Class of 2014 receivers -- including two, De'Andre Thompkins (early enrollee) and Chris Godwin, in the ESPN 300 -- but there are a lot of question marks at this position in the short term.

3. Shoring up the secondary and replacing defensive leaders. The Achilles' heel of the Nittany Lions the past two seasons has been the secondary, especially the safeties, and Franklin will certainly have his work cut out for him here. Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas are both good corners, but Franklin could opt to move Lucas to safety -- and, as last year's Amos experiment showed, mixing and matching sometimes tends to create an unwanted ripple effect. With the departures of DT DaQuan Jones and MLB Glenn Carson, PSU also will have to find leadership elsewhere. Those two were arguably Penn State's top defensive performers in 2013.

More to-do lists:
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- ESPN 300 receiver De'Andre Thompkins didn't know whom his Penn State coach would be on Monday night. The Nittany Lions' commit only knew the coach he preferred.

"I really hope [James] Franklin takes it," he told ESPN.com, five days before the hire became official.

He wasn't the only one -- four-star wide receiver Chris Godwin felt similarly -- because Franklin's reputation precedes him. He's the gregarious coach who calls recruits "homeboy" and the tireless recruiter who clips two cell phones to his boxers when he's preparing for a night's rest.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Don McPeak/US PresswireJames Franklin was the most successful coach at Vanderbilt in generations, and his outgoing personality is infectious.
He garnered Vanderbilt commitments from ESPN 300 prospects in Florida, Georgia and California. He convinced offensive tackle and Louisiana native Bailey Granier to choose Vandy over Alabama and Florida State. And he reeled in 22 four-star recruits during his time there -- a half-dozen more than Penn State. The Commodores managed a total of just one four-star prospect in the six previous classes.

Franklin's impact on the Nittany Lions' future recruiting classes -- and on overall recruiting in the Big Ten -- should be instant and far-reaching. An ACC coach told CBS' Bruce Feldman that, if Franklin wound up at Penn State, "He'd kill it in recruiting around here."

"He's very different because he's so approachable," said Ricky Bowers, a high school coach at The Ensworth School in Nashville, Tenn., whose team won four consecutive state titles. "He's just different. He's friendly, likable and passionate.

"The only way you wouldn't like him is if you were jealous of him."

Franklin drove to Ensworth before the state title game just to wish Bowers luck. And Bowers said Franklin is that rare type of coach with whom he can just shoot the breeze on the occasional lazy day.

Franklin was characterized by others as an energetic recruiter with an infectious personality -- so Bowers wasn't surprised much by all the NFL attention. After all, Nashville-area recruits looked at Franklin as the man who built up the local college program out of the ashes. Lest you think that's an exaggeration, consider this: Before Franklin arrived in the Music City, the Commodores last boasted a nine-win season in 1915, a full decade before Joe Paterno was born. In the past two years, Vanderbilt has recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons.

"Good gracious, he's got everybody fired up about football," said Marty Euverard, the high school coach at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville. "He just knows how to build relationships, and I think that's a key component. Some people have a gift; some don't. He's got it."

Penn State's old coaching staff tried to construct new recruiting pipelines. Former defensive coordinator Ted Roof attempted to circle back to his recruiting roads around Georgia and, when he left, safeties coach Anthony Midget focused on his old stomping grounds in Florida. Their spoils? Roof helped reel in two 2013 commits who remain on the roster, defensive back Kasey Gaines and defensive tackle Parker Cothren, from Georgia and Alabama, respectively. Midget didn't grab any in the most recent class.

Compare that untapped territory with Vanderbilt. The Commodores signed three players from California -- and that was just in the last class alone. Vanderbilt's current roster includes players from 21 states. No recruiting area has really been off-limits to the bald coach with the trademark frames.

"He's been able to cast a wide recruiting net at Vanderbilt, one that's broader than any net I've seen cast," Bowers told ESPN.com. "He's honed in on schools that Vanderbilt has not traditionally been in on. When you first see him, he just has this personality, where you like him right away. He's just a nice guy and, yeah, he's a really good recruiter."

Franklin was able to attract top recruits to a cellar-dwelling program and turn it into something special. It's unknown what he can do with a former powerhouse -- whose fans once showed up in the thousands for a 7 a.m. pep rally, and showed up by the handful Wednesday night in snowy, below-freezing temperatures at the airport just to catch a glimpse of Franklin.

Nobody can say for sure the heights that Franklin can take this program, recruiting-wise. But Thompkins and Godwin aren't the only ones who are excited -- and Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, two teams in PSU's recruiting footprint, shouldn't be the only ones who are worried.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Michael O'Connor will never forget New Year’s Eve 2013. It was the day his life was turned upside down.


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Looking to the past & future: WRs

December, 20, 2013
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It's never too late -- or too early -- to see what we learned from this past season and also look ahead to next season. So, over the next two weeks, we'll break down each position on the Nittany Lions.

Up today: Wide receivers.

REWIND

Expectations entering the 2013 season: Allen Robinson was expected to be better than ever but -- with a true freshman quarterback -- it wasn't quite certain if his numbers would equal his breakout 2012 season. Even Robinson acknowledged numbers might not reflect his improvement.

[+] EnlargeAllen Robinson
AJ Mast/Icon SMIAllen Robinson posted eye-popping numbers despite the lack of a credible threat on the other side.
But he gained weight, speed and strength and was sure to play a huge role in the offense. Outside of him, Brandon Felder was expected to step up to become a consistent No. 2 option. And some pegged 2013 as a breakout season for Eugene Lewis, who could overtake Felder early in the season.

How they fared: It's difficult to surpass high expectations when they're practically touching the clouds, but that's exactly what Robinson did. He set the school's single-season record (again) with 97 catches and added another school record with 1,432 receiving yards. He accounted for 46 percent of the passing offense.

The problem here is that all the other wideouts fared poorly. Felder struggled with drops and inconsistency all season. He had a good game against Michigan (six catches, 97 yards), but that and the next game were the beginning of the end. Bill O'Brien clearly had enough of his mistakes, as he wound up with just two catches in the final five games.

Lewis was still a little rough around the edges, the result of not playing wideout until college, and he had good performances in the first and last games of the season. But in the 10 games between? He had 72 receiving yards. And those were the No. 2 and 3 receivers.

What we learned: Without Robinson, this corps is in trouble. Lewis showed glimpses of potential, but not enough to quiet the questions surrounding this group. If it wasn't for Robinson, the receiver position might've been as weak as the safeties ... and that's saying something.

Grading the position: C+. Robinson gets an A, but the rest of the group gets a D. Average that together, and you get this mark. Robinson was one of the nation's best, but the rest of the group was definitely below average. They certainly had their moments but didn't consistently factor into the gameplan. It was a season to remember for Robinson and a season to forget for every receiver not named Robinson.

FAST FORWARD

Key losses: Felder and (possibly) Robinson. A-Rob still hasn't officially stated whether he'll declare early for the NFL draft, but it sure seems as if that's a likelihood. On the positive side, PSU has three talented incoming freshmen at the position -- including ESPN 300 wideouts De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin. One could be asked to immediately step in to plug the gap created by Felder and/or Robinson.

Position stock watch: On hold, but likely trending downward. It's a simple equation. If Robinson stays, this position will be better than last season. Felder was a nonfactor, and his departure won't be felt that much, while Lewis should only get better. But if Robinson leaves? Well, feel free to hit that panic button because PSU just lost the best player on its team. This position would instantly become the biggest question mark on the offense, right ahead of the offensive line.

Key to next season: Finding someone to complement and/or replace Robinson. Penn State needs at least two solid options at receiver in O'Brien's pass-heavy offense, but that's far from a guarantee next season -- even if Robinson returns. Expectations will be very high for Lewis, who needs to take a few steps forward after an overall disappointing redshirt freshman season. Lewis obviously has playmaking ability, as he caught three highlight-worthy passes from Christian Hackenberg, but that needs to be parlayed into an every-game performance.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

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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