Penn State has oral commitments from 15 players entering the first day when recruits can sign binding letters, and could possibly gain a 16th on Wednesday. With the departure of two seniors who passed on returning for a fifth year, the Lions are believed to have 16 scholarships.
Two of the top recruiting websites, Scout.com and Rivals.com, have Penn State ranked sixth in the Big Ten, now made up of 12 teams. That's up from 11th place in October.
Scout.com ranks the Nittany Lions 33d in the nation for their recruiting class, while Rivals comes in at 36th. In October, they were No. 63 by Scout and unranked by Rivals, which lists only the top 50.
"I think they did well to salvage a rough start," said Mike Farrell, national and Mid-Atlantic recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "They were way down heading into November, but they picked it up a little bit. Starting in December, they added a lot of quality guys, high three-star and four-star."
Bob Lichtenfels, the East regional recruiting manager for Scout.com, said the late success for Penn State was a reflection of a trend from highly ranked recruits to wait as long as possible before making a decision.
"More big-time kids this year seemed to have waited more than in other years," Lichtenfels said. "They had to wait for them to make a decision. So there was nothing magical in how they finished. It's just more of the individual decision process."
Paterno hasn't visited a recruit since dropping in on Terrelle Pryor in Jeannette, Pa., in 2008, and has been criticized as one who cannot finalize attracting the recruit. Farrell said that means each of his assistants "has to do the job of two coaches."
"They really have to hustle a lot," he said, "because they don't have a head coach who goes into a living room to close the deal like every program in the country can. Without the tradition, the fan support, and the facilities there, it would be a disaster."
The Nittany Lions benefited from the firing of Dave Wannstedt as Pitt's head coach, picking up two former commitments to the Panthers - wide receiver Bill Belton of Winslow Township High in South Jersey and linebacker Ben Kline of Dallastown, Pa.
"The Pitt situation helped them get two of their best recruits," Lichtenfels said. "Those two kids are studs. They committed to Pitt, and when all the coaching stuff happened, Penn State jumped on them quickly. That helped them tremendously."
The Lions loaded up in two areas, getting commitments from four defensive ends and five offensive linemen. Two of the ends are Philadelphia-area high school products - 6-foot-9, 250-pound Shawn Oakman of Penn Wood and 6-5, 222-pound Deion Barnes of Northeast.
Penn State coaches also worked hard in getting offensive linemen, including a trio of four-star performers in guard Angelo Mangiro of Succasunna, N.J., Anthony Zettel of West Branch, Mich., and Donovan Smith of Owings Mills, Md.
"Zettel is a monster," Lichtenfels said. "If he can gain 20 pounds between now and the fall, he has a great chance to be playing. Donovan Smith will probably redshirt because he's still a little raw, and will probably need a year to develop."
The Lions are still in the hunt for 6-1, 200-pound defensive back Adrian Amos of Baltimore, who had committed to Connecticut but withdrew after coach Randy Edsall took the job at Maryland. Amos, who visited Happy Valley last weekend, also is considering West Virginia.
Of course, there also are failures on the recruiting circuit. Penn State was a finalist for the services of five-star defensive end Ishaq Williams of Brooklyn, but he opted for Notre Dame.
"He would have been the best player in the class, by far," Farrell said.
In addition, Penn State did not recruit any quarterbacks or running backs. There are four quarterbacks on the spring roster, but two of them - Rob Bolden and Kevin Newsome - have expressed interest in transferring, and no one seems to know what will happen at the position.
Penn State's Recruiting Class
Name Pos. Ht. Wt. High School
Anthony Alosi OT 6-5 285 Hun School
Deion Barnes DE 6-5 222 Northeast
Bill Belton WR 5-10 180 Winslow Township
Kyle Carter TE 6-4 227 William Penn
Sam Ficken K 6-1 180 Valparaiso (Ind.)
Jordan Kerner DE 6-4 225 Fairview (Pa.)
Ben Kline OLB 6-2 218 Dallastown Area (Pa.)
Angelo Mangiro OG 6-2 290 Roxbury (N.J.)
Ryan Nowicki OT 6-5 275 Cactus (Ariz.)
Shawn Oakman DE 6-9 250 Penn Wood
Shyquawn Pulliam ATH 6-0 178 Kiski School (Pa.)
Allen Robinson WR 6-2 190 St. Mary's Prep (Mich.)
Donovan Smith OT 6-5 265 Owings Mills (Md.)
Matt Zanellato WR 6-3 190 Lake Braddock (Va.)
Anthony Zettel OG 6-4 255 Ogemaw Hts. (Mich.)
Contact staff writer Joe Juliano
at 215-854-4494 or firstname.lastname@example.org