Penn State Nittany Lions: Mike Gesicki

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – We’ve reached Day 2 of this week’s countdown, which is centered on the top position battles to keep an eye on this spring.

Up today is a position battle that’s actually a positive for the Nittany Lions …

No. 4 position battle: Tight ends

[+] EnlargeAdam Breneman
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesPenn State's Adam Breneman is battling with older players for playing time at tight end.
Departures: Matt Lehman (2 catches, 17 yards; injured in Week 1)

Returning players: Adam Breneman (15 catches, 183 yards), Kyle Carter (18 catches, 222 yards), Jesse James (25 catches, 333 yards), Brent Wilkerson (missed season with injury), Mike Gesicki (incoming freshman)

Breaking it down: This is not a position of concern. Quite the contrary, actually. Tight end is the deepest position on the offensive side of the ball, and the Nittany Lions have three solid players here in Breneman, Carter and James. But who’ll finish the season with the most catches? Who’ll wind up as Christian Hackenberg’s top threat?

Each of those three players will be battling this spring to become that No. 1. Two seasons ago, Carter seemed like he was on pace to be the Big Ten tight end of the year before an injury derailed his hopes. He boasted the best hands on the team, but his wrist was still taped up during a Monday weightlifting session. Last season, James was the top option -- and he provides an excellent red-zone target with his height of 6-foot-7. And then there’s Breneman, the up-and-coming tight end who’s a great friend of Hackenberg’s and who might have boasted the best chemistry with the young QB. They all have their own strong points, and this should definitely be an interesting position battle.

When you take Allen Robinson out of the equation, tight ends caught 41.6 percent of passes last season and 42.5 percent of throws the year before that. This group should make a big splash, but it’s still unknown who’ll lead them.

Pre-camp edge: James. He was the top target last season, so it’s fair to say he has the edge right now. He has a great blend of size and speed, and this could be his breakout year now that Robinson is headed to the NFL. Breneman still has work to do -- namely improving his blocking -- to become an every-down tight end, so this spring race seems like it would be between Carter and James. Carter has the potential, but there’s no telling whether the terrific 2012 version will show up. As a result, right now, James has to be considered the leader.

More position battles to watch:

No. 5: Kicker

Penn State recruiting roundtable

February, 6, 2014
Feb 6
11:00
AM ET

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.
Penn State coach James Franklin has been in the Big Ten for less than a month, but he's already making big news on the recruiting trail. At his introductory news conference Jan. 11, Franklin proclaimed: "We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region." He then went out and landed eight recruits in the three-plus weeks before signing day, flipping five who had pledged to Vanderbilt, his former team. Franklin upgraded Penn State's perimeter with players like wide receiver Saeed Blacknall. It's safe to say the Big Ten recruiting landscape is a little more interesting with Franklin in the mix.

ESPN.com caught up with the Penn State coach earlier Wednesday to discuss his first recruiting class with the Lions.

Where does today rank among your favorite days of the year?

James Franklin: Professionally, it's a really good day. You're talking about your future, you're talking about the possibilities of what these young men are going to bring to your program. So from that perspective, I enjoy it, there's no doubt about it. And I'm a guy who likes recruiting because I like being successful, and good players help.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/ John BealeFrom the moment he took over as Penn State's coach James Franklin set out to make a big impact on the recruiting trail.
What were your main goals with this class, given the limited time you had to finish it off?

JF: Well, we had major holes in the roster from a scholarship reduction standpoint. We had to try to fill some needs, although we're not going to fill all of our needs in one class. The ones that were obvious, we only had two scholarship offensive tackles in the program, so that was important for us. When you've got a quarterback like [Christian] Hackenberg, you better have some weapons to throw the ball to, so wideouts were important. And then continue to work on depth in the D-line as well as the secondary. We still have a long way to go, but considering we had three weeks to finish this out, we did pretty well.

What stands out about the wide receivers you brought in?

JF: The combination of [Mike] Gesicki at tight end, who's really a big wideout, H-back type guy, and then at wideout, the size and speed combination that we have, I feel really good about that, with Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin and all the guys we have. [Troy] Apke as well, I think it's a nice class. When you have a quarterback like Hackenberg, it helps you recruit, but it's also a responsibility for us to surround that guy with as much talent as possible.

How much was speed an objective with this class?

JF: Speed always is an objective for us. We will have the fastest team in the Big Ten. When you say that, a lot of people think you're talking about DBs and wide receivers, but for us, it's kickers, it's offensive line, it's every position. We want speed throughout our team.

You've talked about players committing to coaches perhaps more than schools. Is too much made out of the school versus the coach? You obviously had relationships with several of these guys from your time at Vanderbilt.

JF: I don't know if that's exactly what I said. I said the school's a major factor and always will be, but with the recruiting process and teams and organizations, it's about the people. You're going to look at the schools and the rankings first, but once you narrow it down to a group of schools you're comfortable with, it comes down to how you feel about the people. It's not about the buildings; it's about the people inside the buildings. That comes down to relationships and trust and all those things. We've had guys we've been recruiting across the country for two years, and we were going to stick with those guys. The same thing with the recruits and families. They were comfortable with us and who we are as men and how we conduct ourselves. It also helped that we went from one school to another that has similar philosophies when it comes to academics.

Did you notice any differences being in the Big Ten or this region?

JF: It's too early to tell. We were just scrambling the last three weeks. I'll have a better idea next year or after spring. The biggest difference is that Nittany Lion logo on your shirt carries a lot of weight in this part of the country and nationally. This is a national brand. And I'm a Pennsylvania guy. I have a lot of connections in this part of the country. So does my staff. It's a big deal for the Penn State coaches to come by the school, to be in that community. This is a very, very proud, storied, historic program, and people are yearning to get back to that. That's what makes this place so special. There's just so many positive things to sell.

You mentioned the defensive line. What do you like about the guys you brought in there?

JF: They're all going to have to contribute. With our situation, all these guys were recruited to come in and play. Once they get here, if they're not ready to play, whether it's emotionally or physically, then we'll redshirt them. But with our scholarship numbers, our mentality is all these guys are going to have to come to play. Maybe they're playing special teams initially, but by the midpoint of the season, you hope these guys are getting significant reps. We're going to have to do that for the next couple of years. Both [Tarow] Barney and [Antoine] White are going to have to play. The fact that they're already here on campus gives them a much better chance, just learning how to practice and the mentality and how we do things. Culturally, our players are good because they've been winning for a long time.

You want to focus in Pennsylvania and the region, but how important is it for you to extend the reach, especially to the South?

JF: We've got to dominate the state and we've got to have a huge presence in this region. On top of that, we're going to recruit nationally by position. You better know where the top players are by position, and you never know. Maybe a kid grew up being a Penn State fan or has a relative that went to Penn State or played here. Now you've got an in and a chance to go pluck a guy from another part of the country that is a big-time player.

Did you send any message to the Big Ten with how you finished off this class?

JF: I don't know about all that. I'm proud of the staff, I'm proud of the players that helped us recruit these guys and be tremendous hosts. I'm just focused on Penn State and doing the best job we possibly can. The more days that we have like this, attack the day with everything we've got, academically, athletically, socially and spiritually, the Saturdays will start taking care of themselves.

Overview: PSU 2014 offensive signees

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
12:15
PM ET
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 class rankings analysis 

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
2:00
PM ET

Ohio State has been on a roll on the recruiting trail in the past few weeks. The commitments the Buckeyes have landed, along with a few other happenings in the Big Ten, have impacted the class rankings.

Here is a look at the most recent trends within the Big Ten.

Looking to the past & future: TEs

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
1:00
PM ET
It's never too late -- or too early -- to see what we learned from this season and also look ahead to next season. So, we've started breaking down each position on the Nittany Lions.

Up today: Tight ends.

REWIND

Expectations entering the 2013 season: With five players set to contribute, this group was expected to be the deepest and one of the most talented on the team. It dubbed itself "TEU," after all. Kyle Carter was coming off a serious wrist injury, but Bill O'Brien tried to downplay that and -- if Carter was fully recovered -- many believed he would compete for the Big Ten's tight end of the year award. He barely missed the honor in 2012.

[+] EnlargeJesse James
MCT via Getty ImagesJesse James led Penn State tight ends in receptions, but for a group that labeled itself "TEU" it was somewhat of a disappointing season.
Many analysts pegged Jesse James as primed for a breakout season. Matt Lehman was looked upon as a solid contributor, Adam Breneman was seen as a bright prospect, and Brent Wilkerson was expected to contribute before a season-ending injury in the preseason.

How they fared: This group isn't calling itself "TEU" anymore. It's not that it played poorly -- because it didn't. But the tight ends just weren't utilized as much as expected.

Carter played in just nine games in 2012 but had a position-leading 36 catches and 453 yards. In 2013, Jesse James led all TEs with 25 catches for 333 yards. James did well, but his performance fell short of the kind of breakout season that was predicted. And Carter, overall, was a disappointment after a stunning 2012 campaign.

Breneman looked good toward the end of the season; Lehman missed 10 games with a season-ending injury.

What we learned: Just because a position's deep doesn't necessarily mean PSU will utilize it. There was talk of four tight end sets in the preseason but, with the injuries to Lehman and Wilkerson, that never materialized. PSU still had two solid TEs (and an up-and-comer in Breneman), but the offense almost entirely leaned on Allen Robinson. Brandon Felder still finished as the No. 2 target despite not seeing a lot of time toward the end of the season.

Grading the position: B. Yes, this group fell short of expectations. But match it up against any other group in the Big Ten, and it'd be difficult to find a deeper or more talented corps. It graded higher last season, but it still had an above-average performance in 2013.

FAST FORWARD

Key losses: Lehman. There's been no official word yet on whether Lehman will be granted a sixth year, but the odds are against it. Still, PSU will return a healthy Brent Wilkerson and add incoming freshman Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional).

Position stock watch: Trending very upward. Outside of quarterback, there's no position where the stock should be higher. James is one of the better tight ends in the Big Ten, and Breneman is fast becoming an important target for Christian Hackenberg. If Breneman can improve upon his blocking, he could be an every-down threat.

And, of course, we haven't even mentioned Carter yet. He's a bit of a wild card this offseason. In 2012, he looked as if he would become one of PSU's best tight ends of the 2000s. The potential is there, but 2013 was clearly a step back. If can return to his 2012 form, it wouldn't be a surprise if we end up seeing those four TE sets in 2014.

Key to next season: Getting the ball to the TEs more. That's obviously not on the tight ends; it's on the play-calls by O'Brien and the decision-making by Hackenberg. The tight ends are more talented than most of the receivers so, it stands to reason, they should get the ball more. There's nothing this position needs to focus on as a group -- like the RBs need to focus on not fumbling -- but Carter needs to get his groove back, Breneman needs to block better and James needs to find more consistency. Overall, though, this group's in great shape.

Big Ten class rankings analysis 

November, 13, 2013
11/13/13
2:00
PM ET

There has been movement on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten conference, so it's time once again to take a look at a few trends and changes among the teams. Here is a look at the latest for the Big Ten class rankings.

Trending up:

Tom VanHaaren: Michigan State has a chance to move up in the rankings if it can close strong. ESPN 300 prospects Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan Catholic) and Kiy Hester (Wayne, N.J./DePaul Catholic) recently added the Spartans to their top list, while Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and Parrker Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) are still listing Michigan State in their top group as well. The strong defensive play on the field has Michigan State in position to play for a Big Ten championship, which could further help this recruiting class.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Penn State picks up commitment No. 15 

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
11:37
AM ET
There are very few schools which are on a roll quite like Penn State is now.

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

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

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


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big Ten recruiting mailbag

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
11:00
AM ET
It’s time to dip into the Big Ten recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions. We’ll try to give everyone a chance to get their questions answered. We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter to @bbournival or @TomVH.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Tom Hauck for Student SportsOT Damian Prince, who is No. 22 in the ESPN 300, no longer seems like a sure thing for Ohio State.
@darkknight1093: Does the late offer to Frank Ragnow indicate that the Ohio State staff believes Damian Prince is trending away from the Buckeyes?

Brad Bournival: I won’t speak for the Ohio State staff, but I’m almost firmly convinced the Prince-to-the-Buckeyes ship has sailed. In fact, I would put it at 95 percent right now that he signs with Maryland in February.

That’s how confident I am that Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) he stays in-state at the end. When a program tells you it wants you to be the face of the program like the Terrapins have, it’s hard to argue against it.

@dannograef: Who is the biggest sleeper commit in the Big Ten?

Tom VanHaaren: It’s no secret that I think highly of Minnesota running back commit Jeff Jones (Washburn, Minn./Washburn), who completed his regular season with 39 touchdowns. I think he’s a candidate, I also like Illinois commit Mike Dudek (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley), Michigan commit Noah Furbush (Kenton, Ohio/Kenton) and Northwestern commit Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio/Galion). Penn State commit De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) is in the ESPN 300, but doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s going to do big things for the Nittany Lions.

@HoosierHolmes: How much would making a bowl help Indiana’s recruiting efforts?

Bournival: To answer that question, I send you over to Penn State where recruits have gone on record to say they won’t choose the Nittany Lions because of the inability to go to a bowl for the next two seasons.

To be more precise, winning breeds winning and attracts more attention from bigger names. The proof is in the fact the same schools in the Big Ten stay on top of the recruiting rankings for that very reason. Kevin Wilson is slowly turning the program around. If he can end the five-year bowl absence this season, don’t be surprised to see a boost in recruiting as well.

@mike_albach10: I really like Malik McDowell's size and intangibles. What do you think his ceiling is?

VanHaaren: He is ranked No. 67 overall and the No. 4 defensive tackle. He is a giant, first of all. He has slimmed down some this season, but he is still head and shoulders bigger than everyone on his team. I think McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) would make an excellent 3-technique defensive tackle for any team in a 4-3 scheme. In Michigan’s defense, he would be able to slide outside to the strongside end spot in running situations and inside to tackle on passing downs. I think he is yet to tap a lot of his potential no matter where he ends up.

@WWEFan20134: Who do you think the final six will be for the class of 2014 for Ohio State football recruiting?

Bournival: With Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) picking Penn State I only see five. The others I feel much stronger about are Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.J./Nassau Community College), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and teammates Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) and Erick Smith.

@Collin_Stauder: Could the play of Michigan State’s defense this year be enough to possibly sway (Parrker) Westphal or McDowell?

VanHaaren: Michigan State always plays good defense, so that’s not something new for those guys. I think that’s part of what attracted them to the Spartans in the first place, so I don’t think that’s a bonus at this point that will tip the scales.

I think the Spartans probably have a better shot with Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) than McDowell at this point, but at the same time I still think Northwestern has a lot to say in Westphal’s recruitment as well.

The play on the field has definitely helped attract some top prospects lately, but Michigan State needs to build on the Indiana win and show more than defense to some of their targets.

@buckeyefan686: Since the Buckeyes missed out on Gesicki who do you believe they land at tight end, or would they just not take one in this class?

Bournival: I think getting a tight end is an absolute must as I’m not convinced moving Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller) over is the solution. Even though Ohio State doesn’t utilize the tight end much, there’s not a plethora of depth at the position. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will be back next season, but Blake Thomas’ career is likely done with the Buckeyes and Marcus Baugh is unproven at this point. Expect them to make a harder push for DeAndre Goolsby (Derby, Kan./Derby), who took an official visit for the Wisconsin game.

@hartley_nick: Any negative recruiting vibes with Michigan’s struggles on the field?

VanHaaren: Not yet. It was only one game and Michigan still only has one loss. It was an emotional loss for the fans because of how deeply they dig into things and diagnose the issues in specific games.

Recruits don’t tend to go that far into things like fans do. If you were to ask a recruit what they saw in that game, they would probably tell you two teams who fought hard into four overtimes and one came out on top.

If that type of play continues, though, and Michigan doesn’t show progress, then I think you could start to see some noise. I don’t think would be any issues with the 2014 class or even the 2015 kids that have already committed. If the season goes downhill, I think you’d see the most impact on uncommitted 2015 targets, but still that doesn’t seem too likely at this point.

 

Penn State picks up commitment No. 13 

October, 17, 2013
10/17/13
7:50
PM ET
Penn State doesn’t play Ohio State on the field for another week.

Off the field, the Nittany Lions scored a big win over the Buckeyes with commit No. 13 in the 2014 class.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider



It’s called the Big Ten Conference for a reason.

From big offers, to big official visits to big commitments, the Big Ten has been abuzz with activity.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

One win shows PSU recruits bright future 

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
10:00
AM ET
It is extremely rare when one football game can make a big impact during a rising high school star’s long recruiting process.

Saturday’s 43-40 quadruple-overtime win by Penn State over Michigan might be that exception.

While all of the 2015 commitments still have 16 months left before they can sign a national letter of intent, those in attendance said some big things days after witnessing the big win by the Nittany Lions.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Why Penn State, OSU fit for Gesicki 

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
1:40
PM ET
One question has been making the rounds in Columbus, Ohio, and State College, Pa., this week, and it has gathered steam since Penn State’s improbable 43-40 quadruple overtime win over Michigan.

It’s a question many are asking and one that has the interest of the Big Ten.

What will tight end Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) do on Friday when he announces between Ohio State and Penn State?

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big Ten recruiting mailbag

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
11:00
AM ET
It’s time to dip into the Big Ten recruiting mailbag and answer some of your questions. We’ll try to give everyone a chance to get their questions answered. We encourage you to send your questions by Twitter to @bbournival or @TomVH.

@darkknight1093: Will the 63-0 beat down of Maryland by FSU end up swaying Damian Prince away from Maryland and toward FSU or OSU?

Brad Bournival: Losses usually don’t carry much weight with potential recruits, as the focus is on the future. Maryland is still very much a player -- if not the leader -- for the ESPN 300 Prince. The fact the Terrapins have told the 6-foot-5, 286-pound Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara offensive tackle they want him to be the face of the program moving forward carries a lot of weight. I don’t think it hurt Maryland’s efforts much at all.

That said Prince does like Florida State, and Urban Meyer never gives up without a fight. I still think Prince winds up at Maryland.

@HammerJr5: Simple, but still important, does Ohio State or Michigan finish with a higher ranked class? And is it because of numbers or talent?

Tom VanHaaren: That’s a good question. Both programs are in on some top prospects and both already have some big commits.

If you look at where they’re at right now, Michigan is ranked ahead of Ohio State and has nine ESPN 300 commits to Ohio State’s seven.

Michigan has a realistic shot of landing Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), which would then give Michigan 11 ESPN 300 commits and two commitments in the top-five overall, with Hand and Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic).

That would be pretty tough for Ohio State to overtake, despite the fact the Buckeyes still have a shot with a few ESPN 300 prospects themselves. So I would have to go with Michigan if Hand and McDowell jump on board. If they don’t, then it could be close.

jbacevice@gmail.com: It’s about halfway through the high school regular season, are any Ohio State commits potential big risers in their ESPN rankings?

Bournival: The biggest name here is four-star athlete Curtis Samuel (Brooklyn, N.Y./Erasmus). He wowed everyone at The Opening in July when he ran a 4.36 40-yard dash and hasn’t shown any indication that it was a one-time deal. With a 40.7-inch vertical jump and the ability to create mismatches, he could be one of the biggest movers when the next round of ESPN 300 rankings is updated. His versatility and unbelievable speed make him one of those to watch moving forward.

Q: Chris, Chicago: It seems like Parrker Westphal could end up anywhere at this point. Where do you think he ends up?

VanHaaren: That’s a good question. Westphal has kept everything very close to the vest his entire recruitment, but we know he is down to Michigan State, Northwestern and Vanderbilt.

He has taken a visit to Vanderbilt, will be in East Lansing this weekend and is planning to schedule a visit to Northwestern before deciding.

I think all three schools legitimately have a shot, and it’s tough to tell where he’s leaning because he does keep things close. I tend to think he will stay closer to home, because he is very close to his family. I know some of the Michigan State commitments, including Enoch Smith (Chicago/Mt. Carmel), have been trying to recruit Westphal so that could help.

I believe Northwestern has a legitimate shot as well, especially since they’re the closest to home. He’s a closed book, though, so we’ll see what happens.

@buckeyefan686: Do you see OSU signing a class that appears to be too large at first in anticipation of transfers like we saw this past summer?

Bournival: The second Ohio State picks up another commitment, that will be the case, as it is at its limit right now. That said, the Buckeyes don’t appear done by any stretch of the imagination. They are in it for inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Cleveland Glenville teammates Erick Smith and Marshon Lattimore at safety and athlete, respectively, and are actively recruiting Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) as well as an offensive lineman. That would put them at 23 commitments.

Remember, the number of student-athletes under scholarship needs to be at 82 by August of next year. Transfers, medical hardships and players leaving for the NFL have an effect on that. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see this class up to 23 or 24 by the time things are done.

Big visitors set to invade Penn State 

October, 11, 2013
10/11/13
10:00
AM ET
Bill O’Brien isn’t missing a chance to put Penn State on center stage this week as the Nittany Lions prepare to play host to undefeated Michigan.

With an eye to the future, the reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year has more than a busload full of visitors coming to check in on his program.

Here are the biggest names scheduled to head to Happy Valley this weekend.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Big Ten Weekend Wrap: Sept. 16
Recruiting reporter Tom VanHaaren breaks down the top weekend storylines from the Big Ten.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video