Penn State could have one of the most stacked running back rooms in the nation next year.
“We’re building a reputation,” coach James Franklin said on Wednesday, which has become college football recruiting’s biggest day.
“It could be in a couple of years they’re talking about us at RBU.”
As in Running Back University.
Penn State received signatures from each of their 27 recruits in the Class of 2020 on Wednesday, the start of the early signing period and the first day high school recruits can make their commitments binding.
The Nittany Lions expect to complete another top 15 class by national standards when the cycle is complete in early February. They could add a couple of more recruits between now and then, depending on scholarship numbers.
Penn State is still waiting word on whether some current players, such receiver KJ Hamler and defensive end Shaka Toney, will leave early for the NFL or return for another college season.
But, for now, this class expects to continue propelling the Lions toward that elusive playoff spot, according to national experts. It is heavy on foundation offensive and defensive linemen (11) and a variety of receivers and tight ends (seven).
It also includes two more running backs — two of the top-rated, 4-star runners from talent-rich Florida.
Of course, Penn State rotated between four tailbacks this past season, ending with an emphasis on 10-touchdown Journey Brown.
If they all return, the scholarship room will grow to six members with the recent addition of Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee, complimentary tailbacks in stature and potential usage.
Holmes, from Cocoa, Florida, is a smallish burner with electric moves and intriguing possibilities as a receiver and returner. He’s 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds.
Lee, from Clearwater, Florida, already is a heavy-duty pickup truck runner with plenty of speed. One national recruiting analyst said he would make a dynamic college linebacker, too. He’s 6-foot and 210 pounds.
Certainly, someone from this Penn State running back room could opt to transfer before summer camp, though junior-to-be Ricky Slade has already announced his intention to return. That leaves leading rusher Brown, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford.
Then again, Franklin noted that intense competition also can be a lure to a place like Penn State. He added that the recent NFL success of former Lion running backs Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders has only helped his program.
“They’re not going somewhere looking for an easy path. They want to come in and compete,” Franklin said in response to a question about Holmes and Lee. “There’s also the aspect of the wear and tear on the position.”
It’s proved to be advantageous how Sanders is enjoying supreme success as a Philadelphia Eagles rookie after serving as Penn State’s featured runner for just one season.
Like these current Penn State running backs, Sanders limited the number of tackles and hits absorbed, as well as other injury possibilities. Barkley improved through three years of heavy work in college.
“It’s really good for running backs to say, ‘There’s all these different paths,'” Franklin said.
“I love when guys never ask you about the depth chart in the recruiting process because guys understand that if you go to a school where you compete at the highest level … you’re going to have to compete wherever you go.”
This all leads to Penn State taking the next step in its growth under Franklin — making the College Football Playoffs. He said he expects most of these 11 recruits who enroll early next month to contribute on the field right away.
Then again, taking that next step still requires going through Big Ten rival Ohio State.
Though the Lions continue to build through recruiting, they have only beaten the Buckeyes once in their past eight games. Their fifth straight top 15 class is a bit behind the Bucks’ usual top five haul.
And yet, “I don’t think the gap between the two of them is all that wide,” ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill told reporters on Monday, including the Reading Eagle. “The difference is the depth. What is the drop-off between one guy and the next guy if you’re rotating series to series or play to play?
“If you talk about closing the gap, I think that’s where the conversation begins.”