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Nittany Lions survive defections to welcome Top 25 class

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The Penn State Nittany Lions have seen more turnover in the past four years than they saw in the 45 years prior.

Consequently, the football team has not reached nine wins or more since 2011, the last year Joe Paterno coached.

Talent has been the biggest issue, as the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the ensuing sanctions crippled the team’s recruitment capabilities. Bill O’Brien and Co. managed to build a somewhat promising base, but a two-year stint gave way to an NFL head coaching job with the Houston Texans. This forced the program to effectively start over once again, this time with former Vanderbilt architect James Franklin leading the charge.

In Franklin’s first year in Happy Valley, he put together the 14th best class in the nation. His 2016 class was shaping up to be even better, but several late defections caused the Nittany Lions national ranking to tumble. Still, the 2016 class is ranked anywhere from 22nd to 25th in the country.

“This is another solid class for Franklin and his staff as they look to retool the program at a few different positions,” said Greg Pickel, who covers Penn State for PennLive.com. “It is highly rated, and on par to be one of Penn State’s best classes in years.”

While the class covers of a multitude of positions, 247Sports recruiting director Steve Wiltfong pointed out a couple areas in particular that deserve attention.

“The two things that stand out right away are the upgrades in the trenches on both sides of the football,” said Wiltfong.

Offensively, the team added Michael Menet, the No. 1 tackle in Pennsylvania; Connor McGovern, one of the top five centers in the country; and Will Fries, a 6-foot-7 tackle from New Jersey. On the defensive side, Shane Simmons, Ellison Jordan and Daniel Joseph could eventually replace the likes of Carl Nassib, Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel.

Despite the excitement, both Pickel and Wiltfong stressed the need for patience.

“It’s unlikely that any of the three [offensive linemen] get on the field right away,” said Pickel.

McGovern will enroll early and Menet has made clear that he would like to play as a true freshman, but Pickel maintained that both players will face an uphill battle to play right away.

“Many players want to do that, but not many players can, especially not on the offensive line,” Pickel said. “All three will try to contribute in year one, but it seems more likely than not that they end up redshirting.”

Not all players could be relegated to the sidelines this season, however, as several skill position recruits could see time. Wiltfong quickly pointed out Miles Sanders, one of the top running backs in the nation, as someone who could pair up with this season’s true freshman standout Saquon Barkley to form a dangerous tandem.

Another interesting prospect could be quarterback Jake Zembiec, the No. 1 rated quarterback from New York. Zembiec—New York’s 2015 Gatorade Player of the Year—could compete with Trace McSorley to replace departed starter Christian Hackenberg.

The defections threaten to have fans wondering “what if” as several highly touted prospects de-committed late in the process, including three top defensive players. The loss of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop may have had an impact.

Four-star defensive tackle Karamo Dioubate of Prep Charter in Philadelphia ended up signing with Temple, while defensive backs Lavert Hill of Detroit and Andrew Pryts of Hermitage signed with Michigan and Stanford, respectively. Aaron Mathews of Clairton flipped to Pitt, where he will get the chance to play his preferred position of wide receiver, and Michigan native Quinn Nordin—considered by most to be the top kicker in the country—chose to stay home and kick for the Wolverines.

“It’s a class that probably won’t blow people away during the 2016 season, but down the road it will make or break the program, and many believe it will make it,” Pickel said.

PENN STATE CLASS OF 2016
Alex Barbir K Cumming, GA  South Forsyth 5'10" 195
Cameron Brown LB Potomac, MD Bullis School 6'6" 210
Tyrell Chavis DL Richmond, Va. Nassau C.C. 6'3" 295
Danny Dalton TE Marshfield, MA Marshfield 6'5" 235
Dae'lun Darien ATH Baltimore, MD Dunbar 6'4" 204 
Will Fries OL Cranford, NJ Cranford 6'6" 280
Alex Gellerstedt OL Dublin, OH Coffman 6'7" 275
Blake Gillikin K Atlanta, GA Westminster 6'2" 185
T.J. Johnson DB Cleveland, OH Euclid High School 6'2" 180
Ellison Jordan DT Baltimore, MD Gilman School 6'0" 265
Daniel Joseph DE Lake Forest, IL Lake Forest Academy 6'3" 245
Connor McGovern OL Lehman, PA Lake Lehman Senior 6'5" 308
Zechariah McPhearson DB Upper Marlboro, MD Riverdale Baptist 5'11" 178
Michal Menet OL Reading, PA Exeter Township Senior 6'5" 273
Miles Sanders RB Pittsburgh, PA Woodland Hills 5'11" 200
Antonio Shelton DT Westerville, OH Westerville North 6;3" 280
Shane Simmons DE Hyattsville, MD DeMatha 6'3" 225
Brenon Thrift DL Monroeville, PA Lackawanna C.C. 6'3" 285
Shaka Toney LB Philadelphia, PA Imhotep Inst Charter School 6'3" 193
Jake Zembiec QB Rochester, NY Aquinas Institute 6'2" 205

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