Did Sanction Reductions Put Penn State in Play for Nation's No. 1 CB?

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystSeptember 25, 2013

Could Jabrill Peppers be tempted to visit Penn State? (northjerseysports.com)
Could Jabrill Peppers be tempted to visit Penn State? (northjerseysports.com)

Jabrill Peppers put an end to his nationwide recruitment process in May when he committed to Michigan. The 5-star Paramus, N.J., prospect has seemingly been a Wolverine all the way since his announcement, but a major alteration in NCAA sanctions placed on Penn State may open the door for newfound deliberation.

Two years after scandal rocked Happy Valley, vilified the university's administration and cost coaching legend Joe Paterno his job, the NCAA has lessened its punishment on Penn State. The governing body of collegiate athletics has decided to gradually reinstate 20 scholarships to the Nittany Lions during the next two seasons, according to the Associated Press.

Penn State will feel the effects immediately, as five scholarships will be restored next year. The team will reach the standard NCAA limit of 85 scholarships per season starting in 2016-17, which is a year ahead of schedule based on the initial unparalleled penalties handed down.

Head coach Bill O'Brien has managed to build a solid 2014 class, as the dark shadows that once lingered above Happy Valley slowly but surely dissipate. Penn State currently holds the nation's No. 29 recruiting class, which features three 4-star prospects per 247Sports composite rankings.

Despite limited scholarship availability, the Nittany Lions have landed heralded recruits like 4-star wide receivers DeAndre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C.) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del.), along with coveted quarterback Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla.). It's not a bad haul for just 12 commits and limited wiggle room.

But now you have to wonder whether the reduction of scholarship sanctions will provide new appeal to top-tier recruits who previously considered Penn State a viable destination. Scholarships are the life blood of any college football program, and perhaps this NCAA announcement provides Penn State with late momentum in the months leading up to national signing day (Feb.5).

Peppers, listed as the nation's No. 1 athlete, a surefire first-year starter at cornerback and third-overall player in 247Sports composite rankings, may be a Michigan commit but Penn State undoubtedly captured his interest along the way. He made that clear in a conversation with northjersey.com reporter Darren Cooper shortly after announcing his intentions to play in Ann Arbor.

If Penn State wasn’t on all those sanctions, this decision would have been a lot more difficult. I really, really liked Penn State, Those guys and the Michigan guys were similar. Both head coaches were surprisingly down to earth. If that whole situation hadn’t happened, I definitely wouldn’t have committed. I probably would have taken two official visits to both schools to see which one I really liked.

Peppers' poignant remarks carry a lot of weight at Penn State today. Michigan's Big Ten rival may have seen the door open just enough to reengage with the prodigious cornerback prospect.

Add in the fact that the NCAA also announced it may ultimately reduce the team's four-year bowl ban, and you wonder if Penn State is back in the picture for Peppers.

At this point, perhaps it's too late. Peppers has lauded the Wolverines at every turn and even reaches out to uncommitted targets about joining him in Ann Arbor.

Surely, O'Brien and his staff will do their due diligence in surveying the situation. In light of significant sanction alterations, it's another step forward for a new Nittany Lions regime and they'd love to have Peppers join the party.