Penn State added one final piece to the Class of 2018 on Wednesday when four-star Waldorf, MD offensive tackle Rasheed Walker signed his Letter of Intent with the Nittany Lions. With Shaquon Anderson-Butts off to at least one year of JUCO ball in Iowa, and legacy wide receiver Solomon Enis opting to stay out west with Utah, the 23-member class is officially in the books.
Regardless of the standard you want to use, the class is impressive. Three 5-star prospects, six players among the top-100, 15 of the 23 players are considered blue-chip recruits (four or five-stars), and four more finished just hundredths short of the 247Sports Composite cutoff for a fourth star. 12 players are among the top-10 in the country at their respective positions, including two that top the rankings nationally.
In short, you would be hard-pressed to find a class during the age of internet recruiting rankings as impressive as the one that James Franklin and Co. just brought to Happy Valley.
I harped on this a lot during the season, but this is the reason that Penn State is set up as well as just about anyone in the country for a run of sustained success. Last year's recruiting class finished at No. 15, 2016's group came in at No. 20, and the Class of 2015 ranked No. 14. Come August, those are the groups that will make up the bulk of Penn State's roster. 42 players from those four classes were blue-chip prospects. That puts the Lions perilously close to the magical 50 percent ratio that has been a hallmark of the nation's elite.
Is elite recruiting a sign of guaranteed success? Of course not. But suddenly Franklin, a coach that has won 22 games over the past two seasons, will have a roster featuring as much raw talent as Penn State has seen in over a decade, if not longer. Not to belabor the point, but this is why so many of us were bullish on the future of the program, despite a pair of disappointing Big Ten losses last season.
Now the challenge is to build on the success of the last two seasons, both on the field, and on the trail. The Nittany Lions are squarely in the "hunted" column week in and week out. The only team in the Big Ten that has a bigger target on its back is Ohio State, but that gap is not nearly as large as it once was. But, while Penn State may be the biggest game on many a schedule going forward, they will do it with a roster that can compete with the country's best, and should overwhelm many others that don't match up.
It may sound cliche to say that all that needs to be done off of the field is to continue what they have been doing, but it might be just that simple. The list of staffs that recruit as hard as James Franklin's is remarkably short, and they are now armed with the results to back up the sales pitch they promised upon arriving at Penn State in January of 2014. And much like the group that just signed, the players that will make up the Class of 2019 have been building relationships with the staff for years.
Perhaps the biggest challenge with next year's group is fitting everyone in. As it currently stands, just 10 players will be in their final year of eligibility during the 2018 season. That means there are limited scholarships within the NCAA's maximum of 85. Combine that with a Pennsylvania senior class not nearly as deep as previous years and you have an interesting dynamic, to say the least.
New running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider brings a host of connections in talent-rich Florida. That has already paid off in the form of a number of new offers in the Sunshine State, and the staff has remained aggressive in Texas after signing Isaiah Humphries and Trent Gordon in December. Working in the staff's advantage is the debut of a new rule allowing players to take official visits over the spring.
But, despite a growing recruiting footprint, the bread and butter will remain Pennsylvania, the DMV, and New Jersey. And the Nittany Lions are in very good shape with a number of high-end talent in all of those areas and more.
Now the fun starts. Again.