For more on Nittany Lions football, visit Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries, plus Big Ten blog Off Tackle Empire.
Penn State won't crack the top of many recruiting rankings, but considering the harsh NCAA restrictions placed on the Nittany Lions, Bill O'Brien and his staff did an outstanding job in State College.
Some services give Penn State a top-25 class; the 247 composite has the Nittany Lions at No. 26. Keep in mind that there were restrictions that held Penn State to only 15 recruits per class, in addition to years of bowl bans, which had nearly every analyst predicting the absolute worst.
It didn't pan out that way: thanks to early enrollments, the Nittany Lions squeezed in 17 recruits, including four ranked as either five- or four-star recruits by Rivals.
The star of the class is easily Christian Hackenberg, a five-star quarterback considered No. 2 in the nation by Rivals. Black Shoe Diaries had nothing but good things to say about the elite signal-caller, even though he plans on redshirting in 2013. They interviewed him after his commitment, with the quarterback answering reader questions about his recruitment process.
The other star is Adam Breneman, a four-star tight end who Penn State fans hope will be catching passes from Hackenberg for years to come. With a true pro-style QB and a strong tight end, Bill O'Brien's offense is starting to take shape, as Black Shoe Diaries wrote:
At 6'5", and with the speed and athleticism of a wide receiver, Breneman will fit nicely into the "F" tight end role at Penn State, a pass-catching monster that the O'Brien offense is built around. He is a four-/five-star recruit from within the state, and a lifelong Penn State fan. While his commitment may have been just a matter of time, it was still a welcome breath of fresh air to a team still reeling from other issues.
Hackenberg and Breneman were both invaluable in helping other players commit as well. Breneman is one of five early enrollees for the Nittany Lions.
Bud Elliott’s grade
Objectively, Penn State's class is no better than a B. But given the unprecedented sanctions that saddle the program, the job done by Bill O'Brien and his staff is excellent. Keeping Hackenberg and Brenneman in the fold is huge, and Penn State has also done a very good job of scouting.
Top three players
Christian Hackenberg, five-star quarterback
By sending in his Letter of Intent, Christian Hackenberg has become arguably the biggest recruit to sign with the Nittany Lions since Derrick Williams in the Class of 2005. The five-star rated quarterback out of Fort Union Military Academy (VA) committed to Penn State on February 29th and stuck with Penn State even after the NCAA sanctions threatened to keep him out of bowl games until at least his junior year. Hackenberg has been the leader of this recruiting class, along with Adam Breneman, and already seems to be Coach O'Brien's right-hand man.
Adam Breneman, four-star tight end
Breneman is a top notch talent on the field, earning accolades across the state for his Cedar Cliff team his junior year. An unfortunate knee injury caused him to miss his senior season, and with a likely redshirt in 2013 in the works, Breneman should be back to form easily by the start of football in 2014.
Garrett Sickels, four-star defensive end
Sickels, a defensive end prospect out of New Jersey, gave Penn State his verbal commitment back in March after garnering offers from schools ranging from Rutgers to Florida. While being a defensive line prospect, Sickels can play as a stand-up outside linebacker as well. Sickels was named a U.S. Army All-American for the 2012 season.
Top three rival classes
Being in a conference with Ohio State and Michigan is a bit of a problem, as Michael Bird wrote for SB Nation. There was some in-state drama, as Pitt stole five-star offensive tackle Dorian Johnson away from the Penn State.
Biggest National Signing Day drama
With recruiting restrictions, Penn State locked up their 17-man class months ago.
Notes from SB Nation blogs
Black Shoe Diaries has an interesting look at the six players who decommitted during the NCAA sanctions aftermath:
Dorian Johnson and quarterback commit Christian Hackenberg were thought of to be a dynamic duo that would lead Penn State to new levels of offensive accolades for the next four years after the Pittsburgh native committed to Penn State in June. Johnson said he was sticking around once the sanctions came down in July, but in August, he decided to look at other options. It came down to Ohio State and Pitt with the hometown Panthers winning out. And since it's Pitt, yeah, we can say Johnson made a bad decision.
Official class release
Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien announced the Nittany Lions' 2013 recruiting class on Wednesday. In all, the Nittany Lions welcome 17 new student-athletes who signed National Letters of Intent to join the football program.
"Recruiting is about a fit and relationships," O'Brien said. "We started working early on this class and they visited us multiple times. This is a group of high character kids who are tough, go to class and do things the right way. Our coaches deserve a lot of credit. They worked hard to develop relationships with the families and the prospects and it turned out well for us."
Penn State's 2013 recruiting class features nine defensive signees and eight offensive signees from seven different states and one from the District of Columbia. Breaking down the class by position, the signees include four defensive backs, three defensive linemen, three offensive linemen, two linebackers, two quarterbacks, one running back, one tight end and one wide receiver.
The list includes four high school players who graduated early to enroll at Penn State, and one junior-college signee, who began classes in January and are participating in winter conditioning with the team.
O'Brien led Penn State to an 8-4 record (6-2 Big Ten) during his first season as the Nittany Lions' head coach and was selected the 2012 Bear Bryant, Maxwell Football Club and ESPN Coach of the Year and the Big Ten-Dave McClain Coach of the Year. The Nittany Lions begin spring practice March 18 and the Blue-White Game is April 20 in Beaver Stadium.
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