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Ohio State may still dominate talent in Big Ten, but Penn State on the rise

If you listen to the recruiting experts out there, they will tell you Ohio State continues to be the top dog when it comes to assembling talent in the Big Ten. Penn State is improving under James Franklin and a Big Ten championship is certainly helping that cause.

This week on Athlon Sports I reviewed the past five years of talent rankings among Big Ten programs and came away noticing a few things. First, Ohio State has been a recruiting machine under Urban Meyer, but everybody knew that. The first two recruiting cycles at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh have most certainly stepped up the game. But what about Penn State? James Franklin was known to be a stellar recruiter when he was hired, and the potential to build something special has been sitting in State College just waiting around with recruiting efforts expected to get easier as the sanction terms expired (or were tossed out entirely ahead of schedule). Not only is Franklin pulling Pen State out of a dark period, he is doing so with extreme flair.

Penn State just recently confirmed its Class of 2017 with a solid push toward the finish line bringing in some good talent at multiple positions. It is the third straight top 20 class signed by Franklin, and it very likely will not be the last. Coming off a Big Ten championship in 2016 and expected to be a solid Big Ten (and playoff?) contender in 2017, the momentum is already showing on the recruiting trail. The latest composite rankings from 247 Sports show Penn State’s Class of 2018 well ahead of the pack nationally as the No. 1 class for the time being.

247 Sports Class of 2018 team rankings at the time of this story being posted (Feb. 11, 2017).
247 Sports Class of 2018 team rankings at the time of this story being posted (Feb. 11, 2017).

Odds are it may not remain that way by signing day, but the point is Penn State is off and running and Franklin and his staff are continuing to add good quality depth to the roster. By doing so, Penn State should continue to make a push to close the gap between them and Ohio State (and Michigan). Penn State may have the best running back in the BigTen (Saquon Barkley) and arguably the top quarterback (Trace McSorley; Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett isn’t too bad either), but even the most diehard Penn State fans would have to admit the individual talent level across the board are still leaving some room for improvement compared to what Ohio State may have to offer. That said, we know that talent is only part of the equation and you don’t need to be John Urschel to figure out the rest of the variables needed to come up with a championship solution.

Athlon Sports: Ranking the Big Ten’s Football Rosters for 2017

Urban Meyer has signed five straight top 10 classes, and four top four classes in that run, yet the Buckeyes have just one Big Ten title to show for their efforts (oh, and a national championship). Meyer has as many Big Ten championships in the last five years as James Franklin (who has been in the Big Ten for three years), and Bret Bielema (who has been gone for four). It’s not just about assembling the talent as much as it is what you do with it. That has been my thinking for a while now.

So far, so good for James Franklin and Penn State, and things may just now be starting to take off in Happy Valley. Can Penn State match Ohio State in the talent department? It’s possible, although we know for a fact they may not need to.

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