Penn State has earned a lot of headlines this spring, largely due to James Franklin and his early recruiting success.
Unfortunately, it's going to be a while before that success impacts the product we see on Saturdays.
Franklin's recruiting prowess has turned Penn State into one of the hottest teams in the country and has fans excited about the future—both near and distant. Some of that excitement is unfounded.
When the NCAA levied stern sanctions on the program in 2012, most fans agreed that the scholarship restrictions would be the most hindering penalty.
At times in 2013, the Nittany Lions were forced to play with fewer than 60 scholarship athletes and those in and around the program expect 2014 to be the worst year in terms of depth.
With just one starting offensive lineman back from last year and the loss of the top two receivers, the offense has some real holes to fill. The defense lost DaQuan Jones and Glenn Carson from the middle of its front seven and still doesn't have a great answer at corner, opposite Jordan Lucas.
The problems start with the starters, but a couple of injuries could really put this team in a bind. Achieving the success of 2012 or even 2013 seems like it will be difficult for this year's Nittany Lions.
CBS analyst Brian Jones offered this as an explanation:
James Franklin is taking Happy Valley by storm. If you can win at Vanderbilt and take a team that’s a perennial doormat into a team you've got to contend with in the SEC, just think what he can do with the talent they’re going to have at Penn State. The recruiting is off the chains already. He’s got a quarterback in [Christian] Hackenberg. They’re going to be fine, and they’re going to be filthy good. Mark my words.
It's hard to argue with most of that. Penn State is indeed going to be fine. It has Hackenberg and recruiting is doing extremely well. Still, most of what Jones pointed out won't be much help in 2014.
Athlon Sports is a bit more realistic, pointing out some of the flaws and acknowledging the depth issues via a quote from Franklin: “I think we've got really good football players and great kids here. We just don’t have enough of them. That’s the reality.”
The thought process behind its ranking seems more based on the schedule than the actual team itself. It's not that it necessarily thinks the Nittany Lions will be the 22nd-best team in the country, but that they'll win a good portion of their games due to the weak teams they'll be facing.
While that logic triggers a debate of its own, it's important to remember that a team with losses to Ohio University and Indiana in the last two seasons will be changing systems on both sides of the ball. At this point a year ago, most fans had Penn State beating Minnesota and UCF.
Picking winners in June makes for a sucker bet.
It's possible that players will step up at all the right positions and the team will have a healthy season. A favorable schedule could lend itself to another season above .500.
To call this Penn State team a Top 25 team is to say that it is better than the 2012 and 2013 teams. The only thing better about this team right now is what's going on off the field.
Franklin did have success at a perennial doormat and should get things going in the right direction at Penn State. His recruiting efforts will make an impact in the long run and the team may certainly be "filthy good" when those kids are wearing blue and white.
In 2014, success can be measured by progress.
There will be players forced into early action in 2014, but they'll create the core of this team going forward. Their maturation will go a long way in Penn State's long-term success—maybe at the expense of short-term success.
It's certainly understandable for fans to be pumped about the job Franklin and his staff have done on the recruiting trail. It's dangerous, though, to mix up recruiting rankings and preseason rankings.