Last summer the Penn State football program was handed a punishment by the NCAA that was, in my opinion, the second-worst penalty in NCAA football history other than when SMU was dealt the death penalty back in 1987. Yet, amidst all of the adversity and scrutiny Penn State has faced over the past season, the Nittany Lions have proved the doubters wrong so far.
The Nittany Lions received an initial penalty of losing 10 scholarships and 20 total per year for the next four seasons. The maximum roster size for Penn State beginning in the 2014 season is 65 players. The scholarship ban will be in effect until 2017.
When all of this occurred in wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, much like many other college football analysts, I wrote the Nittany Lions off for years to come. Many even believed that the Penn State program would not be resurrected again until at least 10 or more years. On top of the NCAA sanctions, the football team lost double-digit football players from their roster including starting running back and all-Big 10 performer Silas Redd.
People argued that the kids should not be punished. Why punish the players for something they could not control because of something that took place off the field? Unfortunately, you could not punish former head coach Joe Paterno because of his passing, and Jerry Sandusky was in jail. Yes, Paterno’s wins were taken away, and he is no longer the most successful coach in college football history. But what good did all of that do? The University of Penn State football program had to be punished, and Happy Valley seemed more like Death Valley in Pennsylvania.
Then came along Bill O’Brein. What a task that the first-year head coach faced before he even coached a game in the navy and white. My hat’s off to him, because calling his first season at Penn State “great” would be an understatement. After losing the first two games of the season, O’Brien’s Nittany Lions finished the season 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten Conference.
Yes, I know the real effects of the NCAA sanctions have not taken full effect, but O’Brien has succeeded on and off the field so far. For the 2013 class, the Nittany Lions finished with the N0. 30 overall class with just 18 signees, according to the 247Sports composite team rankings. The 2013 class also included the No. 1 overall quarterback in the nation, Christian Hackenberg as well as four other four-star players.
This off-season has been much of the same on the recruiting trail for O’Brien and his staff as the Nittany Lions have the No. 24 ranked class, according to Rivals.com, and the No. 23 overall class, according to 247Sports.
Penn State has landed five four-star players for 2014, which is headlined by wide receivers DeAndre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, as well as four-star quarterback Michael O’Conner and safety Marcus Allen.
I’m not going to sit here and say that the Penn State program will not feel the effects of the NCAA sanctions because they most certainly will, but O’Brien has kept the faith within the Nittany Lion program by beating the odds so far.
With his success last season in 2012, it is hard to tell what the program will look like in 2017 when the sanctions are lifted. Will Penn State be in shambles as many predicted, or will one of the most prestigious schools in college football battle through the adversity? Only time will tell, but they are headed in the right direction.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @EvanWilliamson_.