Penn State recruiting: 5 key Nittany Lions questions leading up to early signing period

Penn State is nearly ready to conclude a collection of lengthy recruitments. The Nittany Lions, along with all FBS programs, are preparing for the inaugural early signing period.

College football undergoes a notable shift in the recruiting calendar with this development, which allows high school seniors to finalize their college selections Dec. 20-22. In the past, players and coaches needed to wait until National Signing Day on the first Wednesday of February.

The traditional February event won’t carry as much clout this recruiting cycle but remains a meaningful date for every team. We’ll place plenty of focus there in the weeks ahead, but first let’s discuss key Nittany Lions storylines that will help define these upcoming days in State College.

1. Will Micah Parsons return to Penn State’s class?

Undoubtedly the most well-known recruit among Nittany Lions fans this cycle, Micah Parsons plans to reveal his collegiate intentions Wednesday morning.

The Harrisburg (Pa.) High School standout, a finalist for U.S. Army All-American Bowl Defensive Player of the Year, previously spent 14 months pledged to Penn State prior to his April 23 de-commitment. There have been ups and downs in his recruitment, resulting in multiple perception shifts about where he would ultimately end up.

Rarely do we see things come full circle with a 5-star recruit of his caliber, but indications are Parsons is primed to rejoin the class he initially committed to as a sophomore. The Nittany Lions extended a scholarship offer during his freshman year, establishing solid rapport between staff members and the prized in-state prospect.

Nebraska and Ohio State seemed to be in front entering this season but dynamics in both instances have evolved. Georgia and Oklahoma may now be the biggest threats to prevent a Penn State pledge, but at this stage it’s difficult to imagine he ends up anywhere but Happy Valley.

2. Will commits take advantage of early signing period?

By all accounts, this is a definitive yes. I’ve consistently heard nearly all, if not all, Penn State pledges plan to sign this week. If there is an exception, it’s likely to be an outlier and draw attention from fans and reporters alike.

Signing ceremonies are set at prospects’ high schools and homes, providing each with the opportunity to celebrate a monumental moment with friends, family, coaches and teammates.

Penn State coach James Franklin spoke highly in favor of the early signing period during his program’s Fiesta Bowl media day on Friday. He anticipates high school seniors feel the same way and are ready to wrap up recruitments that lasted years in many instances.

In the case of Parsons, he received a Nittany Lions offer in 2014. That’s a long time for both players and college programs to engage in back-and-forth dialogue before things become official.

When the dust settles this Friday, expect the vast majority of pieces in Penn State’s 2018 class to come together.

3. How quickly will these prospects impact the Penn State roster?

We won’t truly learn the immediate impact of this 2018 recruiting class until next season, but a few players in particular are primed to join the roster far sooner than their counterparts.

The Nittany Lions will add at least five early enrollees to campus in January. It’s always an interesting transition for student-athletes who graduate high school ahead of schedule to get a fast start toward the next phase of their athletic and academic careers.

This collection of incoming players includes defensive backs Isaiah Humphries and Trent Gordon, linebackers Jesse Luketa and Nick Tarburton and tight end Zack Kuntz.

“It is important because I want to learn the plays earlier so that I can get on the field quicker as a true freshman,” Gordon said.

Aside from presenting a potential advantage on the field during spring camp, early enrollment also allows freshmen to become acclimated with day-to-day expectations in a new environment.

“I’m ready to learn and ready to work,” Luketa said. “I want to get into the weight room with those guys and prepare my body for college football. It will also allow me to grow more comfortable around campus and become a familiar face with my teammates.”

Those signees who don’t enroll early will join the roster next summer. Though they’ll need to get caught up to speed, it wouldn’t surprise to see players such as 5-star recruits Ricky Slade and Justin Shorter state their case before season kickoff.

Jesse Luketa-penn state-recruiting
Linebacker Jesse Luketa will sign with Penn State on Wednesday and arrive on campus two weeks later. (Student Sports/courtesy)

4. Have we witnessed the last of class departures?

There are times during college football recruiting cycles when classes can seem like revolving doors due to constant comings and goings. Penn State was no exception while composing its 2018 class.

The Nittany Lions have parted ways, in one way or another, with six prospects who are now high school seniors. Each of these instances have occurred since April 21, so it’s not as though they’ve been especially spread out.

For those who may have forgotten about a few of these changes, here’s a quick rundown of former commits who are no longer in the class:

  • Offensive lineman Chris Bleich (Plymouth, Pa.)
  • Quarterback Justin Fields (Kennesaw, Ga.)
  • Defensive end Dorian Hardy (Elizabeth, N.J.)
  • Defensive end Micah Parsons (Harrisburg, Pa.)
  • Offensive lineman Antwan Reed (Muskegon, Mich.)
  • Defensive back Isheem Young (Philadelphia)

As previously mentioned, there is an excellent chance Parsons reverses course. Fellow 5-star prospect Fields is the other most notable member of this list, as he’s risen to consideration for a No. 1 overall ranking and has since committed to the Georgia Bulldogs.

At this point, it’s doubtful we’ll see another deduction from the class as currently structured unless academic issues arise for someone. A group that once featured 23 pledges is now down to 20 players, but expect that total to only increase as signing day approaches.

Elite quarterback recruit Justin Fields spent six months pledged to Penn State prior to his de-commitment. (Chris Kirschner/SEC Country)

5. What awaits Penn State after early signing period?

Though the early signing period will provide some semblance of finality, it certainly doesn’t end an arduous process of putting pivotal finishing touches on this class. The Nittany Lions, even with Parsons on board, will have sights set on a small collection of top-tier targets after Christmas.

Defensive ends Jayson Oweh and Tyreke Smith list Penn State among favorites. Both blue-chip recruits plan to announce their decision Jan. 4 during the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, Fla.

Despite a limited volume of remaining available scholarships, Penn State is also primed to make more moves on offense. Tackle Rasheed Walker and receiver Solomon Enis are the primary focuses on that side of the football.

In the event Penn State missed on Parsons this week, it could encourage Franklin and his staff to explore other options during a six-week stretch leading up to signing day. Don’t count out the possibility of surprises even in a winter that figures to feature substantial certainty for Nittany Lions recruiting efforts.

The post Penn State recruiting: 5 key Nittany Lions questions leading up to early signing period appeared first on Land of 10.

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