O'Brien keeps PSU on track

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 9:33 p.m.

Penn State hasn't discussed using two-way players.

But running backs coach Charles London won't rule out the concept that is more retro than rotary phones.

“We'll be creative,” London, also the team's recruiting coordinator, said earlier this week.

Penn State has no choice given the scholarship restrictions it has over the next four years.

Penn State, per terms of NCAA sanctions handed down in July, can offer no more than 15 scholarships a year for the next three years. Even more prohibitive: The Nittany Lions are only allowed to have 65 players on scholarship — the maximum is normally 85 — from 2014-17.

National experts lauded coach Bill O'Brien and his staff in assembling the 2013 recruiting class, which has some star power and is solid if only on paper. What O'Brien did in recruiting, post-NCAA sanctions, mirrored what he accomplished in his first year as a head coach.

He kept the program from unraveling after the NCAA penalized the program, and drew widespread acclaim for the results he delivered.

But as with the 2012 team that went 8-4 after opening the season with consecutive losses, the recruits O'Brien persuaded to sign with Penn State on Wednesday represent the easy part.

That is not to diminish either accomplishment, but Penn State is merely in the first quarter of fallout from the NCAA sanctions. It only gets harder to win and recruit from here since the two are inextricably linked.

The 65-scholarship limit that takes effect in 2014 means Penn State may even be more limited in recruiting in future years, depending on how the Nittany Lions' roster shakes out.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has talked about how damaging the loss of three scholarships is to a major college program on probation. USC, a purported 2012 national championship contender, collapsed under the weight of preseason hype — as well as the effects of having 10 fewer scholarship players than its competitors due to NCAA sanctions.

National recruiting analyst Allen Wallace, who has followed Southern Cal for years, said the reduced number of scholarship players prompted coach Lane Kiffin to limit contact in practice out of fear of injuries.

“If you watched them play, they couldn't tackle,” said Wallace, publisher of California-based SuperPrep magazine. “Well, if you're not hitting enough during practice. ...”

O'Brien has made bolstering Penn State's walk-on program a priority — five WPIAL products are among those expected to join the 2013 team as invited walk-ons — and that could help the Nittany Lions counter their own numbers crunch. His NFL background should also translate into O'Brien being able to make do with a limited roster.

O'Brien has a plan for steering Penn State through the most turbulent period in program history, and he was able to sell it to coveted recruits like Christian Hackenberg, Adam Breneman, Brendan Mahon and Garrett Sickels.

That should bode well for Penn State, even as it becomes significantly harder to win and recruit over the next couple of years.

“The foundation that coach (Joe) Paterno started here and kept here for 50 years,” O'Brien said, “we're trying to keep it going.”

Note: Marshall assistant Anthony Midget will join O'Brien's staff as the secondary coach, filling the opening created when defensive coordinator Ted Roof left for the same position at Georgia Tech, and secondary coach John Butler was promoted to run the defense. The move, confirmed by a Marshall spokesman, came less than two weeks after Midget left Georgia State, where he served as the defensive coordinator in 2012, for Marshall. Midget starred as a cornerback for Virginia Tech in the late 1990s and was a fifth-round draft pick by the Falcons in 2000.

Scott Brown is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ScottBrown_Trib.

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