Penn State Football: Everything You Need to Know for National Signing Day

Troy WellerContributor IIIJanuary 13, 2014

Penn State Football: Everything You Need to Know for National Signing Day

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    James Franklin is just weeks away from signing his first recruiting class as the head coach at Penn State.

    Franklin was named the 16th head coach in program history on Saturday. He replaces Bill O'Brien, who did a remarkable job of keeping the program competitive after the Jerry Sandusky scandal rocked the university back in 2011. 

    National signing day is just a few weeks away. On February 5, teenagers from around the country will sign on the dotted line, accepting scholarships to play football at the schools of their choice. It's the first real mile marker on what hopes to be a long journey for Franklin in Happy Valley.

    Here is everything you need to know leading up to the big day. 

Early Enrollees

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    Wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins
    Wide receiver De'Andre ThompkinsSteve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

    While the class won't be finalized until national signing day, some players will have already stepped on campus by then.

    Of Penn State's 21 commits, five of them will be enrolling early at the university. According to Audrey Snyder of PennLive.com, quarterback Michael O'Connor, offensive tackle Chasz Wright, defensive tackle Antoine White, wide receiver De'Andre Thompkins and defensive tackle Tarow Barney will all start taking classes this month. 

    These five players will get valuable reps during spring ball and even participate in the annual Blue-White game. From an academic standpoint, they'll have a full semester of course work under their belts before the fall rolls around.

    Enrolling early doesn't always equate to more playing time for a freshman, but it does provide them familiarity with the process of college athletics before summer camp begins.

Top Prospects

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    Penn State is expected to bring in some highly rated talent, no matter which recruiting site you look at. 

    Scout.com has six Nittany Lion recruits ranked as 4-star prospects, while Rivals.com has five. Both sites agree that only one of Penn State's projected signees is ranked lower than a 3-star prospect.

    Franklin inherits a class that features four players who just played in the Under Armour All-America game. Michael O'Connor and De'Andre Thompkins were joined by defensive tackle Thomas Holley and wide receiver Chris Godwin down in St. Petersburg just days ago. 

    Tight end Mike Gesicki, safety Marcus Allen and cornerback Troy Vincent Jr. are other players who are highly rated on some scouting sites. Defensive tackle Tarow Barney—who already signed his letter of intent—was rated as the 39th-best junior college prospect by 247Sports.com.

The James Franklin Effect

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    Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

    He's only had the job for a few days, but James Franklin has already made an impact in recruiting. 

    After meeting with the media on Saturday, Franklin ended his first day as Penn State's head coach with a splash. Offensive tackle Chance Sorrell and defensive end Lloyd Tubman both switched their verbal commitments from Vanderbilt to Penn State. 

    The duo's quick decision to switch things up speaks volumes about Franklin's recruiting ability. 

    But his work isn't done yet. According to StateCollege.com, Franklin also offered scholarships to a handful of players on Saturday, including cornerback Amani Oruwariye, offensive lineman George Brown and safety Emmanuel Smith. 2015 linebacker Josh Smith also received a Penn State offer. 

    While the majority of the class is in place, Franklin could still do some tinkering before the group becomes official on national signing day. 

Overall Outlook

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    Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

    Penn State is poised to have a top-25 class—recognized as such by both Scout.com and Rivals.com—for the first time since 2010. The rankings could shift downward if a prospect decommits, but the Nittany Lions seem safe so far in that sense. 

    Both sites have Penn State rated as one of the best recruiting classes in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are thought to have a better class than Michigan State, a team fresh off a conference championship and Rose Bowl victory. 

    In his introductory press conference on Saturday, James Franklin said he wants to "dominate the state" when it comes to recruiting. With that mindset—as well as one that stretches out nationally—expect Penn State to be at the top of the recruiting ranks for years to come.  

    The Nittany Lions will have more scholarships to work with next year after the NCAA reduced the penalties on PSU. The fanbase should be excited to see what Franklin can do in his first full year of recruiting come 2015.

    The hiring of James Franklin at Penn State is a warning shot to the Big Ten, as well as the rest of the college football landscape. The Nittany Lions are ready to start butting heads with the nation's best again.