As Penn State prepares to step onto the field and begin the 2016 football season, there are few fans of the Nittany Lions who would argue against the opinion that this year's roster is more talented on paper than anyone has seen in some time. The recruiting results from James Franklin's tenure in Happy Valley have been undeniably excellent, and he's in position to bring home another strong class in 2017.
How much further do the Nittany Lions need to climb, though, before their baseline talent level can match up with that of the two top recruiting teams in the conference? Below, we'll break down the rosters of Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State into average 247Sports Composite scores per position.
|Ohio State||Michigan||Penn State|
|QB||★★★★ (0.9123)||★★★★ (0.9131)||★★★ (0.8659)|
|RB||★★★★ (0.9597)||★★★★ (0.8998)||★★★★ (0.9169)|
|WR||★★★★ (0.9305)||★★★★ (0.8936)||★★★★ (0.9012)|
|TE||★★★★ (0.9027)||★★★★ (0.9044)||★★★ (0.8769)|
|OL||★★★★ (0.9108)||★★★★ (0.9079)||★★★ (0.8873)|
|DE||★★★★ (0.9135)||★★★★ (0.9194)||★★★★ (0.8901)|
|DT||★★★ (0.8894)||★★★★ (0.9045)||★★★ (0.8499)|
|LB||★★★★ (0.9238)||★★★ (0.8871)||★★★ (0.8703)|
|DB||★★★★ (0.9214)||★★★ (0.8888)||★★★ (0.8698)|
When looking at the table, a few things jump out right away. The first being that Penn State is competing against two teams that are recruiting at Alabama and LSU levels right now. Both rosters are so stacked with talent, that they could conceivably run out a starting offense and defense composed of solely four-star and higher players (assuming they all won their respective position battles).
The next thing that jumps out is the simple fact that while Penn State has closed the gap considerably, the coaching staff still has a ton of work to do before this roster gets to the level of Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh's loaded squads.
Now, are recruiting rankings really the best way to determine how talented a roster is? Of course not. Kids develop differently, some continue to build on high school success and some don't. Some are late bloomers who explode onto the college scene and experience success they never quite found on the high school level.
One thing is sure however; despite a coach's prowess as a play-caller or a staff's ability to get the most out of three-star players, NCAA teams that aren't fueled by "star power" simply aren't in very good positions to win championships. As our friend Bud Elliott of SB Nation has been declaring for years, stars matter. It doesn't matter that a lowly-rated Austin Johnson turned into an NFL draft pick. It doesn't matter that Christian Hackenberg went from future Heisman winner to fourth-string New York Jets quarterback. The simple fact is that the teams that are competing for and winning championships in today's college football are the ones recruiting at the highest levels.
Is Penn State on the right track? Absolutely. But they're not quite there yet.