Penn State Nittany Lions: Ki-Jana Carter

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

With similar score, Lions must move on

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
2:00
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Former Ohio State OG LeShun Daniels reclined on his oversized couch, next to two of his sons, while they sipped lemonade Saturday night and stared at the Penn State-Ohio State game on the big-screen TV.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsBill O'Brien and Penn State will need their leadership to help them get over the lopsided loss to Ohio State.
They'd laugh and joke during the game, and Daniels would flip on other channels to peek at the Oregon and Missouri contests when -- and only when -- a commercial break interrupted the action. His youngest, 5 years old, conked out around halftime when the score glued on the bottom of the screen read, "PENN ST 7 OHIO ST 42."

But Daniels, who started for the Buckeyes from 1994 to 1996, couldn't take his eyes off the TV. These were his Buckeyes after all, a team still close to his native Ohioan heart. And he smiled to himself before midnight when that final score stuck. It was all too familiar.

Ohio State won, 63-14, Saturday night -- the identical score from Oct. 29, 1994, when he played Penn State. But, this time, the numbers were reversed. Daniels had stood on the Beaver Stadium grass -- and still remembers listening to the Lion roar over the loudspeaker -- when his beloved Buckeyes dropped a 63-14 contest to PSU. Now, the Buckeyes were celebrating at The Shoe as the 63-14 victors.

"It just clicked, watching the game the other night," Daniels said with a laugh. "The Bucks did play a good game, so it was good to see that. But also seeing that score, even 19 years later, that was really good to see. I remember hearing about that game like 1,000 times while we were playing Penn State. So it was good."

Four former Ohio State players from that game still remember it vividly, nearly 20 years later. A loss like that never really leaves you, they said. For most of the roster, it was the worst beatdown they received from Pee Wees to the pros. Nothing felt -- or ever would feel -- quite like that.

"It sticks with you, kind of even today," former defensive end Matt Finkes said. "People will still bring that up; even before this week there were people talking about that loss. They'll be like, 'Oh it was 56-7.' And I'll be like, 'No, it's 63-14.' It's etched in my memory. That's something you don't forget."

Bill O'Brien's squad of 61 scholarship players probably hopes to forget about the scarlet and gray this week -- but they could learn a lesson from those 1994 Buckeyes and that 63-14 landslide. After suffering its worst loss in nearly a half-century, the 1994 Ohio State squad rebounded with three straight wins, including a 24-3 victory over a good Wisconsin team the very next weekend.

Former OSU linebacker Lorenzo Styles remembers the Penn State game all too well. He can still remember watching one completion after another from Kerry Collins -- who went 19-of-23 for 265 yards and two TDs -- and chasing down a speedy Ki-Jana Carter (19 carries, 137 yards, four TDs). But, more than anything, he remembers the frustration his defense felt lining against PSU's mammoth offensive line.

The Buckeyes were young and inexperienced that year -- not unlike PSU this season -- and what would usually end up as stops in the backfield routinely turned into at least 2- and 3-yard gains. Finkes moped on the sideline late in the third quarter and just wanted the game to be over; a sense of relief washed over the team once the refs finally blew the whistle.

"You don't forget about it, but you understand you have to come out ready with what you're supposed to do the next week," Styles said. "We knew we had the rest of the season left."

Added Finkes: "The coaching staff just sat us down and said we still have a lot of goals to accomplish -- and let's not lose this whole season just because of one game. And then that's the year we beat Michigan."

Intensity at practices turned up a few notches the week after the '94 team's 63-14 loss. Those three interviewed Buckeyes -- along with DT Matt Bonhaus -- all used the term "embarrassed." They were upset and beside themselves -- but they were also angry. And they were out to prove that historical loss wasn't the norm; it was just a bad footnote to a good season.

They had played terribly and lost to the far-superior team, one that finished the season undefeated and boasted five offensive All-Americans. They wouldn't see another team like that one and, they vowed, they wouldn't perform like that again either. They won that next week -- and beat PSU the very next season.

"You get another win under your belt," Bonhaus said, "and that feeling, that loss, goes away."

The Nittany Lions are a 10-point favorite against Illinois on Saturday. Whether they insist they've moved on or not, that loss to Ohio State will still be on their minds. It was on the 1994 Ohio State team's.

But the OSU quartet's advice for PSU was simple: Focus on the new opponent, don't lower expectations and don't dwell. Be resilient, and put more time in the film room to correct mistakes.

"They're resilient," Styles said of Penn State, explaining how the team stuck together through the sanctions. "The leadership on this team is like the leadership we had; they'll move forward."

But they won't forget. The Buckeyes rolled into that 1994 game with black socks, a secret move engineered by tailback Eddie George in which the coaches were unaware. (Finkes recalls one assistant yelling expletives because of the move.) The Buckeyes never before entered a game with black socks. Afterward, some players never touched black socks again. Even a decade later.

To this day, Bonhaus owns no black socks outside of some dress pairs. Finkes takes it even one step further -- he intentionally has no pairs of blacks. He'll wear gray dress socks if the occasion calls for it.

"I'm happy we went out and played that good game Saturday night," Finkes said. "But nothing's going to make that 1994 game go away -- even if we would've beaten them 100-7. No matter what, it was still me losing 63-14 back in 1994."
So, what teams had the best and worst all-time PSU fantasy drafts on Tuesday?

There's a lot of opinion out there, but NittanyNation tried to find two knowledgable judges to offer their takes on each team's draft. Both Steve Jones and Mike Poorman agreed to grade each team and include a brief analysis.

Jones is the play-by-play voice of Penn State football and hosts a daily radio show that can be heard on ESPN 1450 in State College. Poorman is a columnist and senior lecturer at Penn State who taught the class, "Joe Paterno, Communications & The Media." Both are PSU graduates.

Here's what they had to say:

Team Lou Prato
(Top five picks: RB Lenny Moore, LB Jack Ham, DT Mike Reid, DE Courtney Brown, C Glenn Ressler)

Jones says: A. Outstanding defense, especially at linebacker, and a solid kicking game. Offensively, Moore could do it all, and people forget Chuck Fusina was a Heisman trophy runner-up who actually had more first-place votes than Billy Sims.

Poorman says: A. I graded the No. 1 pick at each position, and Lou was tops with eight such selections. His LB combo of Jack Ham and Shane Conlan, PSU’s best two ever, and secondary pair of Harry Wilson and Michael Zordich exemplified a depth of knowledge -- and, hence, roster -- that was unmatched, top to bottom. Memo to Bob McClellan: 25 years after you had him in class, Lou is still cantankerous.

Team Bob McClellan
(Top five picks: CB Brian Miller, RB Curt Warner, OT Keith Dorney, OG Mike Munchak, DE Michael Haynes)

Jones says: A-. Great running game and offensive line, along with the best rushers. This group has underrated receivers and an underrated quarterback who was Big Ten player of the year.

Poorman says: A-. Seven of Bob’s picks were best at their position. His OL spanned four decades and was the strongest group by far. All-time pick leader Neal Smith and punter Ralph Giacamarro showed McClellan’s surprising and seasoned savvy against a field of Penn Staters. Flex selection Lydell Mitchell was inspired.

Team Stephon Morris
(Top five picks: LB Sean Lee, LB LaVar Arrington, WR Bobby Engram, DT Matt Millen, RB John Cappelletti)

Jones says: A-. He mixes the school's only Heisman winner in Cappy with the quarterback who won the first national title. Defensively, the athletes at linebacker are impressive, and Millen is outstanding up front

Poorman says: Pass. No way I could fail Stephon. A likeable and gutsy player, he was a media favorite with his candor. With his draft picks, he displayed confidence -- he picked Stephon Morris at CB -- and smarts, by snagging four of the giants of Penn State football: John Cappelletti, LaVar Arrington, Matt Millen and Todd Blackledge. But his O-line was of the “oh, my goodness” variety, and his biggest downfall.

Team Josh Moyer
(Top five picks: QB Kerry Collins, S Mark Robinson, OT Levi Brown, OG Sean Farrell, TE Ted Kwalick)

Jones says: A-. Get ready for the ball to fly. Great quarterback and receivers. Everyone has quality tight ends, but Kwalick was special. Strong secondary behind that defensive line.

Poorman says: B+. Josh has the best pitch-and-catch triad of Kerry Collins, Kenny Jackson and Ted Kwalick, with Stefen Wisniewski snapping the ball. That’s four of his five position-best picks. He showed a healthy respect for -- and use of -- the past (W.T. Dunn, Joe Bedenk) that gets high marks, but his pair of kickers and one corner selection ranked a Z.

Team O.J. McDuffie
(Top five picks: RB Ki-Jana Carter, RB Larry Johnson, OG Steve Wisniewski, OG Jeff Hartings, S Darren Perry)

Jones says: B+. Great running game along with speed at wide receiver. The defense is solid across the board.

Poorman says: C. O.J. was in trouble as soon as did not pick O.J. McDuffie. His one old-school pick, Matt Bahr, was the best kicker selected. But O.J. relied almost totally on Nittany Lions from the past three decades and regrettably didn’t include one player from the first 88 years of Penn State football. Not OK, O.J.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The all-time Penn State fantasy draft might be over, but the controversy has only just begun.

NittanyNation thought it'd take an extra day to reflect on the process, offer some analysis, give some opinions and then move on from a memorable three-hour, 24-round draft.

Steve Jones and Mike Poorman will grade each team later today, but NittanyNation wanted to give its own rundown of the draft and offer a behind-the-scenes look at a few picks.

The best PSU player? In a casual Twitter poll Monday night, linebacker Jack Ham received the most mentions for best overall Penn State player. Team Prato took him in the second round, with everyone except the softspoken McDuffie playfully calling Lou Prato a jerk. (Everyone wanted Ham.)

It was an interesting, nonscientific poll because it took about a dozen votes for a single name to be repeated. LaVar Arrington and John Cappelletti also received multiple mentions.

Prato voted for Lenny Moore by drafting him with his No. 1 overall pick.

[+] EnlargeO.J. McDuffie
USA TODAY SportsO.J. McDuffie wasn't happy when Team Moyer drafted him -- immediately before McDuffie planned to draft himself.
Most memorable part of the draft: Definitely the end of the seventh round. Only one receiver had been drafted until that point (Bobby Engram), and Team Moyer needed a wideout.

So, right before Team McDuffie had back-to-back picks, Team Moyer selected O.J. McDuffie for his own fantasy team.

Team Moyer: "Sorry to do this to you, OJ, but I got to. I'm taking O.J. McDuffie. Need Collins to throw to someone."

Team McDuffie: "Damn, Josh. I was just about take myself."

That's when four receivers -- McDuffie, Bryant Johnson, Deon Butler, Kenny Jackson -- were taken consecutively and caused headaches for the other three participants. That was a key part to the draft. And, five days later, O.J. still wasn't happy about the move.

"I still can't believe you did that," McDuffie said, laughing. "Right before me."

Biggest head-scratchers: Cornerback Brian Miller as the No. 2 overall pick? C'mon, Team McClellan. Cornerback was the slimmest position in the draft, so corners had added value -- that was McClellan's reasoning for taking him so high -- but one could've held off on Miller until at least the fourth or fifth round.

Team McClellan passed up Ki-Jana Carter and Kerry Collins for Miller. Team Morris also received some ribbing for making Sean Lee the No. 1 LB, but Stephon Morris wanted to draft someone in the first round with whom he had played. So that was understandable.

But when Morris took kicker Chris Bahr in the 10th round? Definite head-scratcher -- although he did explain that move here. McDuffie also surprised just about everyone when he drafted Larry Johnson over the likes of Curt Warner and Cappelletti.

Best undrafted players: Where to even begin? There were plenty; you could make up a great team on just left-overs from the draft.

QB Tony Sacca, FB Franco Harris, RB Blair Thomas, WR Derek Moye, OT Chris Conlin, and C Matt Stankiewitch are among the best remaining picks on offense. As far as the defense: DT Jimmy Kennedy, DE Bruce Bannon, LB Michael Mauti, CB Derek Bochna and S Harry Hamilton were also undrafted.

Best sleepers (or best-value picks): OK, we'll throw Team McClellan a bone here. Grabbing two-time All-American and College Football Hall-of-Famer Dennis Onkotz in the 16th round was probably the steal of the draft.

That greatly boosted Team McClellan's LB corps. And he grabbed another great-value pick with Lydell Mitchell in the 20th round. Team Morris definitely got great value in QB Todd Blackledge in the 19th round, and Team Moyer's best-value picks appeared to be LB Greg Buttle in the 18th round and Kenny Jackson in the eighth.

Morris means business: A lot of participants hit the books before the draft, but Morris' preparation was a little different. As a player, he had a bit of a leg up, because he didn't just stop at reading up on all the players -- he went straight to the source.

Morris called up several former players -- including Lee, Chafie Fields, NaVorro Bowman, Derrick Williams and Arrington -- to talk about whom they thought deserved to be drafted.

"Once you told me about it, I had contacts with guys who I played with and guys like Chafie Fields, who I was thinking about signing with, so I just did my research," Morris said Tuesday night. "I asked them about some guys, who I should choose and pretty much went from there."

Morris' research seemed to pay off. Prato was pleasantly surprised at Morris' Penn State knowledge, and his defense is among the best.

Can we get a mulligan? When you're picking players without a fancy draft board and you're racing against the clock, sometimes panic and confusion set in -- and it basically happened to all of us.

Prato regretted not taking Gregg Garrity; Morris likely would've taken Brandon Noble over Devon Still if he had another chance; McDuffie would've drafted himself sooner. And Team Moyer? Why, oh why, couldn't Lydell Mitchell hold out for one more round? Michael Mauti also likely would've replaced Ed O'Neil upon closer inspection.

Looking back on the draft: The most difficult part wasn't necessarily creating your own "cheat sheet" and ranking the best players at each position. It was trying to weigh whether someone like Michael Robinson had more value than someone like Engram.

There was no blueprint to this, since it had never really been done before. We all knew what players we wanted -- but we weren't so sure just who we could wait for and who we needed to grab right away.

Morris agreed that you kind of had to adopt a reactive strategy with the draft. With no mock drafts, it was definitely unique. But, looking ahead, at least future drafters will have some idea of what to expect.

It was definitely a lot of fun. The NittanyNation staff will probably continue trash-talking about this throughout the season. And McDuffie, Morris and Prato were all great sports.

"If I’d know the level of participation McDuffie and Morris would have I’d have picked them 1 and 2," McClellan said. "Great guys and tremendously patient during the whole process, too."

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