Penn State Nittany Lions: Evan Royster

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – We’ve reached the middle of this week’s countdown, which is ranking Penn State’s most impactful recruiting classes of the past decade.

Up next is a class that was responsible for a half-dozen All-Big Ten selections.

No. 3 most impactful class: Class of 2006

Top prospects: CB A.J. Wallace, RB Evan Royster, TE Andrew Quarless, DT Ollie Ogbu, DT Jared Odrick, DE Aaron Maybin, LB Bani Gbadyu, DE Maurice Evans, OT Lou Eliades, WR Brett Brackett, LB NaVorro Bowman

Biggest surprise: Royster. ESPN’s scouts gave him a grade of 72, which was equivalent to a low-tier three-star prospect. Out of the 20 prospects that ESPN rated, Royster had the lowest grade. But he certainly left his mark at Penn State. He left the university as its all-time leading rusher, surpassing such greats as Curt Warner, Ki-Jana Carter and Franco Harris. He averaged 5.7 yards a carry, rushed for 3,904 yards and scored 29 touchdowns. He wasn’t the best tailback ever to wear the blue jersey, but he certainly belongs in the top-10 conversation.

[+] EnlargeNaVorro Bowman
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsFormer Penn State star linebacker NaVorro Bowman is a three-time All-Pro with the San Francisco 49ers.
Impact player: Bowman. He basically took the place of All-American Dan Connor in 2008 and didn’t skip a beat. He led the team with 106 tackles that season and finished behind Maybin in tackles for loss with 16.5. PSU finished with the No. 8 defense in the nation that year, and Bowman came right back the next season and was an All-Big Ten selection before declaring early for the NFL draft. He had 17 tackles for loss in 2009, a half-dozen more than Odrick, who was an All-American. Like Royster, Bowman might not have been the best at his position ever to matriculate through "Linebacker U," but he belongs in the top-10 conversation.

Why this class is important: Just take a look at these names. The talent here is incredible, as this class produced a half-dozen All-Big Ten selections and a pair of All-America picks. Many of the players here were skilled enough to play in the NFL, as six were taken in the draft.

But if there’s one thing that prevents this class from moving up a spot or two, it was the fact a few entered the NFL early or found a way into Joe Paterno’s doghouse. Quarless was incredibly skilled, but spent two seasons trying to work his way back into Paterno’s good graces after marijuana possession charges. Maybin and Evans had short, but bright careers and clearly weren’t ready for the next level when they declared. (Evans might have declared early because he also found himself in Paterno's doghouse.) Bowman also declared early – but clearly was prepared. If those players stayed through their senior seasons or stayed out of trouble, this class goes down as one of the best of all time.

It’s still a very good class, one filled with NFL talent and solid college contributors. But this class had the potential to be even better; it could have been legendary.

More impactful recruiting classes:

No. 5: Class of 2011
No. 4: Class of 2004
Who'll start Saturday -- Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson?

Whatever the answer is, the quarterback will face the same challenge on Saturday by making his first career start. We can't peer into the future to see what the end result will be. (Hey, as Bill O'Brien likes to say, we're no genies.)

But we can look back to see how the last five Penn State quarterbacks fared in their first career starts. Here they are:

Matt McGloin, redshirt sophomore
vs. Michigan on Oct. 30, 2010
Outcome: PSU 41-31
Stats: 17-of-28 for 250 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: After Rob Bolden suffered a head injury against Minnesota the week before, McGloin became the next man up. He was the first former walk-on to ever start under Joe Paterno.

After holding on to a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter, McGloin led PSU on two touchdown drives to give the Lions a 28-10 advantage by halftime. Said Paterno after the game: "That's about as well as we can play."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIRob Bolden made history in 2010 as the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for Penn State under coach Joe Paterno.
Rob Bolden, true freshman
vs. Youngstown State on Sept. 4, 2010
Outcome: PSU 44-14
Stats: 20-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Synopsis: He was the first true freshman in a century to start an opener for Penn State, and he fared relatively well against lesser competition.

PSU started off slow and led just 16-7 at halftime, but Bolden was able to get some breathing room when Chaz Powell returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Bolden didn't get much help from the running game -- Evan Royster had 40 yards on 11 carries -- but PSU dominated after the touchdown return.

Daryll Clark, redshirt junior
vs. Coastal Carolina on Aug. 30, 2008
Outcome: PSU 66-10
Stats: 11-of-14 for 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: Penn State performed as expected against an FCS cupcake and didn't even really need to pass. PSU rushed for 334 yards and led 38-0 by halftime.

Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo played later in the game because, well, there was really no reason for Clark to risk injury. Clark said this afterward: "When you first start, you want everything to go right. I don't think I got touched today."

Anthony Morelli, junior
vs. Akron on Sept. 2, 2006
Outcome: PSU 34-16
Stats: 16-of-32 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions

Synopsis: Morelli started off hot and drove the Lions to a score on their first drive, on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler. He was 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards and two scores on just his first three drives -- and he was the first PSU quarterback since joining the Big Ten to throw three TDs in his first career start.

Said Akron coach J.D. Brookhart: "That kid can throw from one half to the other, 20 yards deep. You won't see a better arm this year."

Michael Robinson, redshirt sophomore
vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 4, 2003
Outcome: Wisconsin 30-23
Stats: 22-of-43 for 379 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions; nine carries for 19 yards

Synopsis: Robinson stepped up when Zack Mills went down the week before with a sprained left knee, and he performed admirably. Although PSU didn't win, Robinson guided PSU on touchdown drives of 74, 80 and 70 yards. And, at the time, only one other PSU quarterback (Mills) had thrown for more yards in a game.

Robinson said this to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Before the game, I kind of thought they would blitz me a little more, because that's what you usually do to a guy making his first start. You kind of want to get in his head a little bit. They played back and basically told me, 'Look, if you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw the ball.' And I think we did a pretty good job."

Top Penn State sleepers 

January, 22, 2013
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Penn State's been able to find its fair share of starters from unheralded recruits, so NittanyNation decided to take a closer look its top-five sleepers since 2006.

These scholarship players came in with little fanfare but have since established themselves with conference honors, broken records and solid performances. Here they are:

1. WR Allen Robinson, Class of 2011, Two stars (Grade: 72)

Q&A: Mark Allen, PSU's first 2014 commit 

October, 17, 2012
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Tailback Mark Allen (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) became the first member of Penn State's 2014 recruiting class Monday night, and he recently talked to NittanyNation at length about his commitment and upcoming visit.

The Nittany Lions were the first to offer the 5-foot-7, 185-pound prospect -- and the PSU fan said that was the offer he wanted most. He committed on the spot Monday night, and he said that day is now permanently etched into his memory.

NittanyNation: So what was Tuesday like at school? Was your Penn State commitment still kind of a secret, or did everybody know by then?

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Nittany Lions in the NFL: NFC offense

August, 22, 2012
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Michael RobinsonSteven Bisig/US PresswireMichael Robinson (right) has become one of the better fullbacks in the NFL after playing quarterback at Penn State, making the Pro Bowl this past season.
NittanyNation takes a look at every Penn State player currently playing in the NFL -- where they are, what their role is and what their careers have looked like.

NittanyNation will look at offensive NFC players this afternoon after glancing at offensive AFC players this morning:

Stephfon Green, RB, Detroit Lions
Height/weight/age: 5-10/193/23
Role: Battling for a roster spot as the No. 4 RB
PSU career: Green burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2008 -- but that turned out to be his best season. He had 578 rushing yards and found himself in Joe Paterno's doghouse by his senior season. He finished his career with 1,351 yards and 14 scores.
NFL career: Went undrafted. Green has six carries this preseason for 92 yards -- including a 76-yard scamper for a score against the Baltimore Ravens.

(Read full post)

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