Chicago-based recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network predicts Penn State will rank behind only Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten recruiting sweepstakes for 2013, indicating little if any backlash from the Jerry SanduskyJoe Paterno scandal that rocked the school.
Lemming has completed 34 of his annual series of coast-to-coast (and don't forget Hawaii) trips to evaluate the most talented high school football players in the country and he observed that Penn State, under the guidance of new coach Bill O'Brien, is one of the hottest programs on the recruiting trail.
"It has been six months since the SanduskyPaterno scandal surfaced and Penn State is starting to do well in recruiting," Lemming said. "O'Brien has no connections to the past at Penn State. That gives him an advantage with recruits. Based on what O'Brien and his staff are doing, there is no doubt it will be between Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State for the recruiting title in the Big Ten."
Penn State has six four-star prospects among its seven commitments to date. Adam Breneman, a 6-foot-5, 225-pounder from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, is the No 1 tight end in the nation. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg of Fork Union, Virginia, Military Academy is a top 100 player. So is 6-foot-2, 290-pound defensive tackle Greg Webb of Sicklerville, New Jersey.
Webb is an interesting case study. He was ignored by Paterno's coaching staff during a campus visit last fall. But he said in December that he would still consider Penn State if defensive line coach Larry Johnson was retained, which he was. Webb, a two-time All-South New Jersey selection, is rated as the No. 1 defensive tackle in the Northeast.
Here are Lemming's other observations as he prepares for his three-week West Coast swing, which will include visits to Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin:
Contrary to reports out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual, one of the nation's top-rated offensive linemen, will remain in Peoria for his senior year. Wolverine.com, a Michigan website, reported that Tuley-Tillman, who is committed to Michigan, was planning to transfer. He has relatives in the Ann Arbor area and Michigan coaches would like him to move "closer to home" where they can keep an eye on him.
But Tuley-Tillman told sportswriter Lonnie Schwindenhammer of the Peoria Journal Star that he plans to be at Peoria Manual for his senior year. "He does have an aunt a short drive from the Big House and he did say his mother plans to move there, but not until after the football season. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if he said something to a Michigan blogger that could have been interpreted as a family move being imminent. Logan is a good kid. He probably could use some direction and fatherly advice," Schwindenhammer said.
The No. 1 player in the class of 2013 is 6-foot-4, 260-pound defensive end Robert Nkemeiche of Loganville, Georgia, who has 4.59 speed and recorded 19 sacks last season. There is talk that Nkemeiche is silently committed to Alabama. His high school coach played at Alabama. Florida, Georgia, Auburn, USC and LSU also are in the mix.
"He reminds me of my second year in the recruiting business when I saw Reggie White in Chattanooga," Lemming said. "He is big and fast. He has great speed for someone that big. He is in the same category as Reggie White, Julius Peppers and Jadeveon Clowney (the nation's No. 1 player in 2010)."
Lincoln-Way West offensive lineman Colin McGovern's decision to commit to Notre Dame marks the first big catch out of the Chicago area for the Irish in quite a while, someone who everybody else wanted. It is significant in many ways.
"McGovern is an All-American," Lemming said. "He is as good as (Michigan-bound) Kyle Bosch of Wheaton St. Francis, Ethan Pocic of Lemont and (Michigan-bound) Logan Tuley-Tillman of Peoria Manual. He has a great frame and he is very athletic. He will weigh 320 pounds in a few years."
Notre Dame had a weakness in the offensive line. But they have four commitments from offensive linemen, two in the top 100 -- McGovern and Steve Elmer of Midland, Michigan, the No. 2 player in the state. The Irish also got 6-foot-7, 290-pound Hunter Bivin of Owensboro, Kentucky, the best offensive lineman in his state. And keep an eye on 6-foot-9, 270-pound Mike McGlincey of Philadelphia, who has the highest upside of any offensive tackle that Lemming has seen.
Lemming reminds that football fans shouldn't be hoodwinked by the number of scholarship offers that prospects accumulate. It often isn't an accurate measuring stick as to their talent and ability.
"You should never rank players according to the number of offers they have. That's political. It is an indication that big schools like you but it isn't an indication that you are a better talent than a kid who has few fewer offers. Some kids seek offers. To some kids, it's a game to see who can accumulate the most offers. It doesn't necessarily mean they are better than kids with fewer offers," Lemming said.
For example, Pocic has only 10 offers compared to McGovern's 14. But he narrowed his list sooner than others. Bolingbrook quarterback Aaron Bailey has 13 offers but Lemming believes he will accumulate more. "He is an enormous talent. When people realize it, he will have more offers," Lemming said.
At least six Chicago area players will rank in the top 100 in the nation in the class of 2013, the highest number in recent years -- Bailey, McGovern, Bosch, Pocic, running back Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic and wide receiver LaQuon Treadwell of Crete-Monee. Tuley-Tillman also will rank in the top 100.
Critics complain that Illinois hasn't been able to recruit any blue-chip players from within the state in several years but Lemming thinks new coach Tim Beckman will be successful where former coach Ron Zook wasn't. Beckman received an oral commitment from running back Kendrick Foster of Peoria Richwoods on Thursday and Lemming feels the Illini have a good shot at Bailey.
"Illinois has to come out of the gate strong," Lemming said. "They have been weak in the last few years. Kids are waiting to see how the program will develop. They want to see what Illinois will do with a new program. Illinois isn't like Ohio State with Urban Meyer, who had a great record of success at Florida.
"Recruiting is all about perception. Advance information on Beckman is his staff is doing a great job of getting their name out there. But kids are hesitant. They want to see how the program proceeds. Is the program on the ascent? Or is it still on the decline? Illinois has to build a buzz."
According to Lemming, 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive end Josh Augusta of Peoria Central is one of the big surprises in the class of 2013. Last January, he had no Big 10 offers. Now Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa have offered. So have Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Memphis and Louisiana-Monroe.
More can be expected.
"He is a very good defensive end and they are tough to find," Lemming said of the very athletic youngster who played on Peoria Central's state championship basketball team. "If he lived in Chicago, he would have over 25 offers,"
Lemming ranks Augusta and Maine South quarterback Matt Alviti among the top 150 players in the nation.
On his recent trip, Lemming also was impressed by 6-foot-2, 180-pound cornerback Rashad Kinlaw of Galloway, New Jersey, who is committed to Notre Dame; 6-foot-3, 170-pound running back Robert Foster of Monaca, Pennsylvania, who has 13 offers (including Illinois)_ but appears to be leaning to Ohio State, Florida and Pittsburgh; 6-foot-6, 225-pound wide receiver O.J. Howard of Montgomery, Alabama, who is committed to Alabama; and 6-foot-4, 200-pound wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood of Jacksonville, Florida, who is committed to Florida and ranks among the top 10 players in the nation.
Kinlaw is an interesting story. As a sophomore, he had five interceptions in 32 snaps. As a junior, he suffered a broken leg and played in only five games. He has 4.4 speed. "He is the best defensive back in the East, a great athlete when healthy," Lemming said.
Why is the Chicago area such a popular haven for college recruiters?
"The word is out. There is a lot of talent here," Lemming said. "Schools such as Alabama, USC, Auburn, Florida and Oklahoma were always here in the 1980s but there wasn't as much talent in the last two decades. Now the perception is Chicago is a place to go.
"The buzz got out. Pocie, Isaac, Bosch and Alviti have been talked about for three years. Treadwell benefited from the presence of Anthony Standifer (who originally committed to Michigan, then switched to Ole Miss). Bailey benefited from a great junior year and because he is playing at a big-time program at Bolingbrook. Hopefully, Chicago can sustain it."