Fact or Fiction: Penn State's 2024 class is underrated
Rivals national recruiting analyst Greg Smith, Richard Schnyderite of The Knight Report, Jon McNamara of Badger Blitz and Charleston Bowles of Inside ND Sports tackle three topics and determine whether they believe each statement is FACT or FICTION.
1. We have underrated Penn State’s recruiting class.
Schnyderite: FACT. Penn State's recruiting class currently features 13 four-star recruits with a host of three-stars that could see their ranking boosted to four-status sooner rather than later. For example, we can start by talking about a late-rising quarterback in Ethan Grunkemeyer, who went from a relatively unknown prospect earlier this year to an Elite 11 Finalist this past June. Then there's DB Jon Mitchell out of Florida who continues to impress at every camp he attended this offseason. And finally there's OL Garrett Sexton and DB Vaboue Toure who rank No. 8 in Wisconsin and No. 7 in New Jersey, respectively, but could end up near, if not at the top, when it's all said and done.
On top of that, arguably the gem of this recruiting class, running back Quinton Martin, has to be one of the most gifted athletes in not only the Northeast but the entire country for his class. He currently ranks as the No. 4 overall running back prospect, but could make a push for that No. 1 spot before it's all over.
Smith: FACT. The top teams in the Midwest have gotten a lot of love for the classes they are putting together. We’ve talked about Michigan holding the No. 1 spot for a while and still battling it out for that spot. Ohio State has gotten love for the push it’s making up the team rankings. Notre Dame has also seen its fair share of praise. But what James Franklin is doing this cycle has largely gone unnoticed.
What the Nittany Lions have on the way in the trenches for the 2024 class is legit. There are nine total offensive and defensive linemen in the class. Five of the nine are four-star prospects. Pittsburgh linebacker Anthony Speca has future star written all over him. Penn State also has talented quarterback Ethan Grunkemeyer in the class, who I think is better than his ranking. We’ll be talking more about this class at the end of the cycle.
2. Wisconsin is getting too much preseason love.
McNamara: FICTION. For the fourth straight season, Wisconsin is the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten West, according to the 13th annual cleveland.com poll. Though the Badgers haven’t been to Indianapolis since 2019, UW is the right choice to represent the West heading into fall camp. Wisconsin has also been mentioned as a sleeper program from various outlets across the country. And while I wouldn’t book any tickets for the College Football Playoff, the Badgers have plenty of returning talent and a favorable schedule this fall - they get Ohio State at home early in the year and avoid both Michigan and Penn State.
Wisconsin has a first-year head coach in Luke Fickell, but this is far from a rebuild. The Badgers return six starters on offense, but more importantly, they improved in the portal at quarterback (Tanner Mordecai), receiver (CJ Williams, Bryson Green and Will Pauling) and on the offensive line (Jake Renfro and Joe Huber). Phil Longo’s new air-raid offense is expected to be balanced, and the Badgers feature one of the nation’s top tailback tandems in Braelon Allen and Chez Mellusi.
On the defensive side of the ball, Wisconsin has to replace team captains and multiyear starters in Nick Herbig and Keeanu Benton. But the bulk of the group is back, and coordinator Mike Tressel could have an all-Big Ten talent in safety Hunter Wohler, who is expected to be showcased this fall.
Expectations are high in Madison, and I think the Badgers get back to Indianapolis in 2023.
Smith: FACT. This offseason has been intriguing when it comes to forecasting the Big Ten. Everyone agrees that Michigan and Ohio State are the cream of the crop overall in the conference. It’s surprising to me that Wisconsin has been greeted with such strong support as a trendy pick to win the Big Ten West.
The returning running back tandem of Allen and Mellusi will be a fantastic combination, but are we sure they will be featured in the same way? Something has to give if Long's scheme puts more emphasis on throwing the football. I’m not expecting an old-school Texas Tech offense but there won’t be as many carries to go around.
The Badgers did a lot of work in the transfer portal to infuse talent. But as we’ve seen around the country it is no slam dunk that the majority of portal additions will be upgrades. It’s a lot to ask to place the Badgers as such heavy favorites coming off the worst season since 2012 with vastly different schemes and so many new players.
The thing is, it’s the Big Ten West and it’s always hard to pick a clear favorite.
3. Notre Dame is building a championship-level defensive class.
Bowles: FICTION. While the Irish are trying to put together a defensive class that can elevate them to championship contention I don’t think it’s there just yet. The recent addition of four-star linebacker Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa is monumental, and gives head coach Marcus Freeman and defensive coordinator Al Golden a versatile piece that can immediately contribute when he steps foot on campus. Other commits such as four-star safety Brauntae Johnson and four-star defensive end Loghan Thomas project as championship pieces, but in order to call this class championship level Notre Dame needs to successfully flip five-star Ohio State defensive tackle commit Justin Scott or four-star Tennessee cornerback commit Kaleb Beasley. If they flip either (or both) of them, which they’re working on, I’ll change my tune and call Notre Dame’s 2024 defensive class championship level.
Smith: FACT. This is really a development bet by me. On paper the Irish aren’t quite there yet, but we know that recruiting classes ultimately get judged after players arrive on campus and show that they can help the team win games. I think this defensive group will help Freeman and his staff win a lot.
The most recent addition, Viliamu-Asa, was an enormous recruiting win. That can’t be said enough. I love the versatility of the group led by players such as Johnson and Bryce Young. The team also got a big-time sleeper in Teddy Rezac out of Omaha (Neb.) Westside.
Yes, there is a hole in the class after missing out on Scott, but he hasn’t signed in Columbus yet and the Irish are still working there. Freeman has a tremendous group coming in, and I think it can elevate the program.