The Penn State football season may have ended two weeks ago, but the work certainly hasn’t.
While well-deserved honors have rolled in for a host of Nittany Lions and coach Bill O’Brien, it’s O’Brien and his staff that have ramped up preparation for next season and beyond.
The one, and only one, benefit to not having a bowl game is that the coaching staff can really concentrate on recruiting. And with the heavy-handed scholarship limitations that Mark Emmert handed down, figuring out recruiting will be the number one task over the next several years for O’Brien.
One hint of what Penn State’s strategy may be in dealing with the scholarship numbers is how they have targeted the top junior college quarterback prospect Jake Waters.
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Waters, who had astounding numbers in leading Iowa Western to the NJCAA national championship Sunday, is somebody that the Nittany Lions have shown great interest in and, in fact, plan on visiting his home next week.
Waters is more than just a pro-style passer like McGloin. The 6-2, 215 pounder, who is listed as a three or four-star prospect depending on the recruiting service, threw for 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season. In addition to great passing numbers, Waters is a threat running the ball. With some scrambling ability and great passer skills, he is a perfect fit for O'Brien's offense.
He is also reportedly considering Kansas State and has scholarship offers from North Carolina State, Akron and Florida Atlantic. All indications were that his choice would be between K-State and Penn State - until Alabama entered the fray this week. Waters, however, doesn't have a scholarship offer from the Crimson Tide to this point.
With Matt McGloin graduating – and Rob Bolden and Paul Jones transferring – Penn State has only Steven Bench, who will be a sophomore, and incoming phenom Christian Hackenberg at quarterback going into next season.
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Let’s face it, the ideal situation would be to redshirt Hackenberg. That would give him a year to acclimate to the system and also allow him two years to play in bowl games.
By all accounts, Bench was impressive in practice as he beat out Jones – a former four-start recruit – for the backup spot. Heading into the season with Bench and Waters – with Hackenberg redshirting - would make the staff feel comfortable at QB.
In addition, Waters’ scholarship is only for two years (three tops if he redshirts for some reason). This will allow that scholarship to become available when Penn State’s gets its full complement back.
This could be a strategy the staff employs at other positions as well. Don’t look for Penn State to turn into K-State and have an influx of 10-15 junior college transfers each season. However, it is possible for a few more to come in. Fit and academic prowess will be important but it wouldn’t be hard to envision O’Brien and his staff selectively targeting more junior college players than Penn State ever has before.
If Waters does come, expect him to be on campus in January. And if that’s the case, one could expect a decision within the next week or so.
Follow Marty Valania on Twitter @EastRecruiting.