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Penn State Football: 3 Verbal Commits Nittany Lions Can't Afford to Lose

Troy WellerContributor IIIJanuary 10, 2014

Penn State Football: 3 Verbal Commits Nittany Lions Can't Afford to Lose

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    Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    The first order of business for Penn State's next head coach is making sure the current recruiting class is still fully committed. 

    On Thursday, it was being reported by multiple sources, including Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports, that Vanderbilt's James Franklin was prepared to accept an offer to become the Nittany Lions' head coach. A formal announcement did not materialize, and Vanderbilt's athletic department has even denied the reports. 

    Until an official announcement is made regarding any coach, some members of Penn State's 2014 class are in wait-and-see mode. No players have decommitted to date, but there's always a level of uncertainty that comes with not playing for the coach who recruited you. 

    There are a handful of players Penn State absolutely needs to ink on national signing day. In rating which ones are the most vital to the Nittany Lions' immediate and future success, two factors were considered. Depth and the talent pool at a player's particular position was the biggest factor, followed by how big of a prospect the individual is. 

    Here are the three verbal commits Penn State can't afford to lose due to a change in regime. 

3. Chris Godwin, Wide Receiver

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    Chris Godwin is a player who could help fill the void left behind by Allen Robinson.

    Godwin committed to Penn State last April over schools like Ohio State, Stanford and Cal. He is a 4-star recruit, according to Rivals.com 

    Trying to replace Allen Robinson's production from the past two seasons will not be easy. Penn State has decent depth at the position, but not enough experience to deny a talent like Godwin the opportunity to see meaningful snaps. Richy Anderson, Geno Lewis and Matt Zanellato are the only returning wide receivers who recorded stats in 2013.

    Godwin, who recently competed in the Under Armour All-America Game, is physically ready to handle the brunt of the Big Ten. At 6'2" and 202 pounds, he has a favorable combination of size and speed that makes him a solid threat. 

    Godwin is among the players who are in wait-and-see mode. According to his Rivals.com profile, Godwin was recruited by Ron Vanderlinden and Stan Hixon—both of whom are no longer at Penn State. To complicate things, Florida has already told Godwin they'll be actively recruiting him until signing day.

    Penn State's next head coach will need to make sure the Gators haven't caused Godwin to have a change of heart. 

2. Thomas Holley, Defensive Tackle

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    Thomas Holley might be the most prized possession of the Nittany Lions' 2014 class.

    Rated as a 4-star recruit by Rivals.com, Holley decided on Penn State over virtually any school in the country. 

    After losing both DaQuan Jones and Kyle Baublitz, Penn State needs all of the help it can get at the defensive tackle spot. Austin Johnson, a redshirt freshman in 2013, will be back, but there's not much else after that. 

    Tyrone Smith, Derek Dowrey, Brian Gaia and Parker Cothren are the only other defensive tackles set to return in 2014. Smith is a "run-on," while the trio of Dowrey, Gaia and Cothren have combined for limited snaps

    Now, Penn State does have three defensive tackles coming in for 2014. Antoine White verbally committed back in July, and junior college transfer Tarow Barney has already signed his letter of intent and will enroll this month.

    However, Holley has the most potential of the three. Because of this, he'll probably see valuable playing time in his freshman season given the depth issues.

    The next staff at Penn State will have to work hard to keep Holley on board. Larry Johnson Sr., the coach who recruited Holley to Penn State, is reportedly stepping away from the program, per John Clark of NBC 10

1. Michael O'Connor, Quarterback

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    Losing Michael O'Connor would be a huge blow for Penn State in 2014.

    A 4-star recruit according to Rivals.com, O'Connor chose Penn State over the likes of Michigan State, Mississippi State and Missouri.

    When Bill O'Brien left for Houston, O'Connor's status seemed in limbo. Scheduled to start classes at Penn State this month, he delayed his enrollment upon hearing the news. 

    Penn State desperately needs him on its roster next season. Though he won't start for a few years because of Christian Hackenberg, O'Connor will, at the very least, provide needed depth. Hackenberg is the only scholarship quarterback the Nittany Lions have right now. Injuries can happen at any time, so Penn State needs a viable backup in case he were to go down.

    The hope is for O'Connor to redshirt in 2014 so that he'd have two years of eligibility remaining once Hackenberg finishes up his senior season. If Hackenberg were to get hurt next year, Penn State would have O'Connor to fall back on in an emergency situation—even if this meant burning his redshirt. 

    If Franklin happens to be hired, that would be a positive sign with regards to O'Connor staying committed. He was recruited and offered by Vanderbilt and has spoken highly of Franklin. 

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