Have Penn State football recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Thursday for the Land of 10 Penn State recruiting mailbag to discuss Nittany Lions recruiting. This week, we discuss the development of quarterback commit Will Levis and the strength of Penn State’s 2018 recruiting class.
Penn State recruiting efforts are relentless, so we always have plenty to address here. Let’s get started…
Hopefully Joe heard about Will Levis’ maturation in the mid-September update I wrote about him. Regardless, this is an excellent question from a viewer of our weekly Facebook Live show.
Shameless plug: You, too, can join the conversation on Facebook each Wednesday at 8 p.m. Our most recent edition featured a Penn State midseason report and usual updates on a variety recruiting topics.
Moving on, let’s dive into the 2017 performance of Nittany Lions quarterback commit Will Levis so far.
The offensive attack at Xavier (Middletown, Conn.) High School hasn’t been very consistent this season, failing to score more than 7 points twice during a 2-3 start. Still, I like the progression Levis has exhibited as a passer through the first half of his senior season.
His latest game, a 35-7 loss to Fairfield Prep, was pretty much a wash. Levis did throw a 73-yard touchdown pass — his 14th total touchdown through five games — but Xavier struggled to control the trenches, surrendering 6 sacks and managing minus-29 rushing yards, according to Chis Elsberry of the Connecticut Post.
Clearly you can pin the overall performance on Levis, who has proven to be the program’s most impressive player. Only one week earlier, he completed 21 of 29 pass attempts for 347 yards and 5 touchdowns, adding a touchdown run in a 56-3 win over East Haven.
What stands out most so far from the senior-season sample size Levis has provided is signs of increased accuracy. He completed more than 60 percent of passes only twice in 10 games last year, leading to a 54-percent completion rating.
Levis is still completing fewer than 60 percent of passes in 2017 but things just seem more precise, particularly when targeting intermediate routes. This was also the case during his performance at a July 14 camp at Penn State, which led to a scholarship offer and his commitment the next day.
Levis consistently located receivers on crossing patterns and out routes, with Nittany Lions tight end commits Pat Freiermuth and Zack Kuntz routinely targeted.
“He throws a nice ball. Great get for our class,” Freiermuth told me afterward.
His long-distance throws left something to be desired during that camp and will remain a point of emphasis during his improvement. Levis, a tremendous overall athlete, will continue to sharpen this aspect of his game once he enters a collegiate setting.
While I don’t believe he is a prospect prepared to handle immediate starting quarterback duties at the Power 5 level, that’s not a realistic outcome at Penn State. Trace McSorley could return for his redshirt senior season, while No. 2 QB Tommy Stevens is eligible through 2019. Freshman Sean Clifford is destined for redshirt status this year, though he earned the No. 3 role in training camp.
Many Penn State fans will always measure Levis against former Nittany Lions pledge Justin Fields, the country’s top-ranked quarterback who committed to Georgia last week. That’s a high bar to meet for Levis, and perhaps unrealistic, but he’s continued to improve in his final audition before college.
Let’s move the spotlight from pledges to those still searching for a collegiate fit…
Mike brings up three names our readers have surely become quite accustomed to during recent months: defensive ends Micah Parsons and Tyreke Smith, and offensive tackle Rasheed Walker. He references the 247Sports crystal ball, which accounts for commitment predictions from analysts across the industry, including me.
Here’s how things stack up when it comes to the three recruits Mike mentioned:
- Parsons: Penn State (82 percent), Ohio State (9 percent), undecided (9 percent)
- Smith: Ohio State (62 percent), Penn State (38 percent)
- Walker: Penn State (77 percent), undecided (15 percent), Ohio State (8 percent)
The key with reading the crystal ball is understanding where momentum is headed.
Ohio State led for Parsons almost instantly after his April 23 de-commitment from Penn State, and that outlook sustained into the 2017 season. However, the combination of a dramatic official visit in Columbus and his ensuing return to Beaver Stadium seemed to swing the pendulum back in the Nittany Lions’ favor. I have a prediction cast for Parsons to Penn State.
Penn State has also gained ground with Smith, who was previously a slam-dunk projection for the Buckeyes. I predicted him to sign with Ohio State pretty early in the process and my pick remains the same in his crystal ball, though I am now far less confident his future resides in Columbus. There’s a definite chance I switch the pick to Penn State following his trip to campus for the Oct. 21 game vs. Michigan.
Lastly, Walker seems to be trending away from Penn State in Crystal Ball projections. His commitment appeared imminent in mid-summer but a slew of preseason scholarship offers creates uncertainty about how many more players can join the 2018 class. I do believe Walker winds up in the Big Ten, but we’ll need to wait and see if Happy Valley is his ultimate home.
Ultimately, Penn State fans should be ecstatic if James Franklin manages to sign two of these three. Each is a big-time talent with big-time offers.
We have time for one more questions. Let’s get to it…
We’ve already covered two of the three defensive ends Jamie is presumably pointing toward: Parsons and Smith. The other is Jayson Oweh of New Jersey.
Oweh, a freakishly athletic 6-foot-5, 236-pound playmaker, landed an offer from Michigan on Wednesday night. He plans to use an official visit at Florida in November, while Notre Dame remains in the mix. However, this recruitment has boiled down to a Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Penn State, barring any late surge from another program.
My belief is these three defensive ends are the top targets for Penn State, and the possibility of signing at least two of them doesn’t appear outrageous. The addition of even one would further vault the Nittany Lions into rare territory on the recruiting trail, giving the program at least 14 blue-chip pledges.
But what if the team whiffs entirely on this trio? Well, it would be a tough pill to swallow considering the investment from Penn State defensive line coach Sean Spencer and the staff at large. Additionally, there’s a good chance that means at least two of these targets would eventually return to Beaver Stadium in a Buckeyes uniform.
Still, I don’t see Penn State falling out of top-10 recruiting class rankings, where the 247Sports composite currently lists the Nittany Lions third overall, behind only Ohio State and Texas.
The class’ current composite score (272.11) would’ve been good enough for No. 8 in final 2017 rankings, though it would’ve left Penn State at No. 11 in 2016. But whether the Nittany Lions land one or all of the “big three” defensive end targets, this class will improve with its final scholarships, which would likely still go to blue-chip talent.
Have a question about Penn State recruiting? Tweet us @Landof10PSU and we’ll try to answer it in a future mailbag. Check to see if your issue already was addressed by reading previous Penn State recruiting mailbags here.