Penn State recruiting to-do list for October: Showcase Michigan matchup; midseason prospect evaluation

Each month, Penn State recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue will take a look at the Nittany Lions’ to-do list here on Land of 10. This outlook focuses on three priority concerns for the program’s recruiting efforts in the weeks ahead. We now move on to October. 

Penn State entered the 2017 college football season with tremendous momentum, and those good vibes continued to grow in September. The Nittany Lions are 5-0, carry a top-five 2018 recruiting class, and secured commitment No. 1 of the 2019 recruiting cycle Sept. 9 when local cornerback Keaton Ellis pledged to James Franklin.

Locating the initial building block of Penn State’s 2019 class was among the main priorities I laid out last month while assembling a September to-do-list for Nittany Lions recruiting efforts. Developments never pause in the recruiting cycle, and now here we are nearly halfway through the regular season with an adjusted focus.

Here’s a rundown of three key priorities for Penn State in October. Franklin explained in mid-September that the Nittany Lions staff is “60 to 70 percent” concerned about recruiting plans beyond the 2018 class, which has featured 23 commits since Aug. 10, so we’re following suit for the most part.

1. Maximize recruiting showcase created by Michigan matchup

Through four home games, it’s apparent Penn State isn’t having any trouble encouraging recruits and their families to make the trip to Happy Valley. Commits and coveted targets have been on hand each week, further evaluating the university environment.

As Franklin alluded to following a crowd of 109,000-plus for the Pittsburgh game on Sept. 9, Beaver Stadium serves as a valuable recruiting tool.

“It’s something that’s important to us and it makes a huge impact in recruiting,” he said. “There are very few venues in all of sports — not just football — like it.”

We’ve known since the 2017 schedule came out that no matchup would likely rival the showdown with Michigan on Oct. 21. Long established as a “White Out” game, this game may rival record attendance at Penn State, while attracting recruits from across the country.

We’re still at least two weeks away from developing a solid visitors list, but I can tell you that at least half of the primary Nittany Lions targets I’ve spoken to since spring from various classes have indicated intentions to at least explore the possibility of being in Beaver Stadium for this game.

A battle between two top-10 teams seems to be brewing, and this game undoubtedly will have a lasting impact on which program represents the Big Ten East in the conference championship game. The environment will be second to none in college football, providing a tremendous showcase for the Penn State staff.

I remember speaking with Penn State standout Mike Gesicki in 2013 about his recruiting visit to Beaver Stadium for the team’s “White Out” game with Michigan, which resulted in an overtime win for the Nittany Lions. Then a senior at Southern Regional (N.J.) High School, he made it clear that the experience helped separate Penn State, and that kind of impression could go a long way with targeted prospects representing the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020.

The game is big-time. So is its recruiting potential.

2. Evaluate midseason film to identify new recruiting targets

Recruiting efforts always are evolving, and fresh information is a pivotal part of the process. Whether it’s academic issues, health concerns or elevated performance, college football programs attempt to stay up to date with developments that may impact their approach with particular players.

Most high school teams have played at least four game by now, which is a significant sample size when it comes to assessing prospects. New game film is more accessible than ever, and essentially only requires a search on Google. That’s quite an advancement from when I entered this industry in 2006, as we used these things called VHS and DVD to cut up highlights and lowlights from each contest.

Penn State is about done evaluating unidentified talent in the 2018 recruiting cycle, but a “no stone left unturned” philosophy goes a long way in roster building. If there are any remaining high school seniors the Nittany Lions are on the fence about, now is an ideal time to pull the trigger on a late offer or move in another direction. There’s still enough time on the clock in this recruiting cycle to create reciprocal interest that can result in an official visit.

However, the vast majority of player evaluation is now centered on sophomores and juniors. As you’d expect, these are crucial seasons for prospects of that age, evidenced by current Nittany Lions star Saquon Barkley, who entered his junior campaign with only one Power 5 offer, from Rutgers.

Has the 6-foot-1, 260-pound defensive lineman you liked as a sophomore blossomed into a 6-3, 280-pound wrecking ball? Did the receiver you’re on the fence about shave a few decimals off his 40-yard dash time this past offseason?

And, of course, there’s always the chance of player regression. If a sophomore who projected as an elite prospect has plateaued, it’s something a collegiate personnel department needs to know.

We witnessed a slew of scholarship offers sent out by Penn State in September, and continued assessment should result in at least a few more during upcoming weeks.

I’ll be curious to see how things progress in Pennsylvania, where the Nittany Lions have issued only one offer to 2019 recruits. That went to Penn State pledge Keaton Ellis, who plays his high school games less than three miles from Beaver Stadium.

3. Add more building blocks to the 2019 class

The aforementioned Ellis, a hard-hitting defensive back who also excels as a receiver and special teams returner for State College High, remains the lone piece in place for Penn State’s 2019 recruiting class. Early indications point toward potential for another outstanding class, but clearly plenty remains up in the air.

The Nittany Lions have hosted a ton of top-tier 2019 talent on campus this season, including defensive tackle Antonio Alfano, running backs Jordan Houston and Keilan Robinson, receiver John Metchie, offensive linemen William Putnam and Caedan Wallace, edge rusher Brandon Smith, and safety Lewis Cine.

No commitment dates are set, but the dominoes will begin to fall for Penn State sooner rather than later when it comes to piecing together a 2019 class. Ellis is an excellent starting point, and he’s a player who will attend just about every home game through 2018, allowing him to act as a peer recruiter.

The Nittany Lions will look to give him some company this month, and it wouldn’t surprise if Penn State managed to add multiple commitments from 2019 targets in October.

caedan wallace-penn state recruiting
New Jersey offensive lineman Caedan Wallace visited Penn State for its game against Indiana. Former high school teammate Fred Hansard is a Nittany Lions freshman. (Caedan Wallace/Twitter)

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