Much will be written about today's unofficial college football holiday, National Signing Day.
You will read much about the inevitably superb classes that will be signed by Alabama, and LSU, and Florida, and Texas. You will hear the talking heads blather on relentlessly about Robert Nkemdiche stunning the college football world by signing with Ole Miss. And of course, you will be bombarded with rankings--silly, imperfect, completely subjective rankings that, in the end, very rarely mean anything at all.
What you might not hear much about, however, is this: Penn State's recruiting class. Which is a shame, in a way, because that class is one of the most remarkable stories of this recruiting year.
When all is said and done today, it is expected that Penn State will sign 17 new players to the Class of 2013. It's a good class, but hardly a great class, and you aren't likely to see the Nittany Lions listed among the Top 20 by any of those alleged recruiting services.
But you might see them ranked among the Top 25, and you will see that O'Brien, against all odds, signed not only one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation (Christian Hackenberg, who chose the Nittany Lions over Alabama and others) but also one of the top tight end prospect in the nation (Adam Brenneman, who could have played his college ball at Miami, Georgia, Florida or countless other schools).
Look, I'm skeptical of these rankings, and I really don't care about "stars." But I do know that many folks out there believe in this stuff, and I do know that, regardless of whether the stars actually mean anything, it is undoubtedly true that the five-star guys have more schools and more coaches chasing them than the one-star guys. And, well, the simple fact is that, even despite having to recruit in possibly the most difficult circumstances that any coach has ever had to deal with (with the notable exception of what SMU faced, post-death penalty), Penn State coach Bill O'Brien has turned in what can easily be called an "above average" recruiting class--one that features two of the most relentlessly pursued players in the nation. That, my friends, is no small feat. What many expected to be a dreadful class turned out to be anything but, and once more, O'Brien has given the college football world a strong indication that, even despite the harsh sanctions under which he's operating, he will actually manage to keep Penn State not only alive, but actually competitive, too.
O'Brien's remarkable salvage job is clearly one of the top stories of this National Signing Day. But it's not the only one. Here are a few others:
♦ Yeah, college football is still the SEC's. But three traditional northern powers have made a statement today, as well. Look at most of the rankings out there and you'll see the usual SEC subjects near the top; Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M, Auburn and even Ole Miss all signed up strong classes, and even such lesser SEC lights as Vanderbilt and South Carolina did pretty well. But you know who else fared pretty darn well? Ohio State. And Michigan. And Notre Dame. Yes, the most important historical programs of northern football may actually be back, if this recruiting season is any indication. With Urban Meyer in charge at Ohio State, and Brian Kelly at Notre Dame, and Brady Hoke at Michigan, there is hope, I think, for better days to come up in Big Ten country. Besides, if they can compete with the SEC big boys in February, maybe they can eventually do so on autumn Saturdays, too.
♦ And hey, speaking of Ole Miss ... how 'bout them Rebels? It is expected that this class of Rebels will land somewhere among the Top 10 nationally, and that's simply amazing. I mean, let's face it, this is a program that hasn't won the SEC title since 1963 and is widely perceived to be a complete also-ran in the brutal SEC West. Coach Hugh Freeze has overcome all of that negative history, however, and in so doing has done more than just give his roster a major lift; he's also given Ole Miss fans reason to believe again.
♦ USC has owned Los Angeles for so long that it's hard to remember at times just how good UCLA used to be--and just how powerful a program it once was. Well, it seems that the glory days may be returning for the Bruins. In a year that USC again struggled a bit on the recruiting trail (I emphasize "a bit," because as usual, they still signed up some incredible talent), UCLA under Jim Mora Jr. stormed up the rankings with a class of 24. The Bruins are finally turning the corner and finally delivering on their great promise; there really is no reason why USC needs to so completely dominate this series. And yes, it's probably good for college football if the Bruins evened things out a bit. Under Mora, they are clearly attempting to do so.