It's not the love-or-hate reaction stirred by some political figures, types of music or actors, but views of Penn State's 2009 football recruiting class has produced an unusual level of disparity.
''I've never seen the real difference of opinion in recruiting services on the quality of players in the northeast like this year,'' Phil Grosz, publisher of BlueWhite Illustrated and the G&W Prep Report, said. ''I think that's led to the wide disparity in Penn State's ranking.''
For instance, G&W has the Nittany Lions' 27-player class ranked 16th nationally. However, Rivals.com, with which BlueWhite is affiliated, has Penn State at 25.
Photo courtesy Washington Post
Receiver Derrick Thomas scored 15 TDs and was first-team all-state in Maryland.
Meanwhile, Rivals' chief competitor, Scout.com, rates the Lions 10th.
It's more like the sports equivalent of Gwyneth Paltrow - you either like it a lot or just have a lukewarm appreciation. Or, perhaps, as one contributor posted on one of the many Internet recruiting forums, it's the Ginger/Mary Ann factor.
''Penn State doesn't have a lot of flashy kids, but what they have is numbers and rock-solid players across the board,'' said
Penn State's '09 recruiting class
Total number of players: 27
Strengths: Wide receiver, defensive back, offensive line
Deficiencies: Defensive end
The gems: OT Eric Shrive, QB Kevin Newsome, WR Justin Brown, CB Darrell Givens, S Gerald Hodges
The impact players: Brown, Givens, Hodges, PK Anthony Fera, C Ty Howle
The sleepers: WR Curtis Drake, OT Adam Gress, WR Shawney Kersey, WR/KR Adam Gress
The ones that got away: LB Jelani Jenkins (Florida), LB Dorian Bell (Ohio State)
Best job of recruiting: Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden
Most intriguing background: Nate Cadogan is the younger brother of Lion lineman Gerald Cagodan; Mike Wallace is the cousin of former Lion Terry Killens; Stephon Morris and Derrick Thomas come from the same high school as Derrick Williams
Where the class ranks nationally: Rivals.com - 25. Scout.com - 10. ESPN - 16. Prep Football Report -24. SuperPrep - 10. G&W Prep Report - 16. PrepStar - 22.
Next Signing Day: Feb. 3, 2010
- Philip Cmor
Jeff Duva, publisher of Prep Stars magazine. ''A lot of these kids become better players than those that are rated four- or five-star coming out of high school.
''If I were Penn State, I'd be very pleased.''
When it comes right down to it, Duva's sentiment was echoed
by virtually every one of the scouts and football recruiting analysts with whom the Mirror spoke after Wednesday's national signing day.
''I think they did a phenomenal job,'' Scout.com northeast analyst Bob Lichtenfels said. ''They filled all their needs at quarterback, wide receiver, offensive line and in the secondary.''
Graduating three of their top four all-time receiving leaders, the Lions signed seven wide receivers, including Delaware's Justin Brown, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder ranked amongst the top-10 nationally by a couple of scouting services. Brown, New Jersey's Shawney Kersey and Maryland's Derrick Thomas could all see the field as early as this season.
Three-fourths of the starting secondary also departs. In response, Penn State recruited three cornerbacks and three safeties. Maryland's Darrell Givens is a tall, long-armed corner ranked among the country's top dozen. New Jersey's Gerald Hodge is a 6-2, 220 pound safety Grosz said reminds him physically of USC All-American Taylor Mays.
With three of the starting members of the offensive line moving on and another entering his senior season, the Lions brought in seven players there. That group is headed by West Scranton's 6-7, 285-pound Eric Shrive, who is near the top of the list on everyone's list of tackle prospects and considered the prize recruit in Penn State's class.
''With the tenacity he has, I think he can be special,'' Lichtenfels said of Shrive, a consensus top-five tackle in his class. ''He's just nasty. And I think his athleticism is underrated.''
Top-10 quarterback prospect Kevin Newsome of Virginia already has enrolled. He immediately becomes the Lions' No. 2 quarterback with the transfer of Pat Devlin and is the odds-on favorite to step in as the starter in 2010 after Daryll Clark graduates.
''That's one of the reasons I've got this as a top-10 class,'' Allen Wallace, the national recruiting editor of Scout.com and publisher of SuperPrep, said. ''It addresses a need, and he's a great athlete. He's a little raw, not polished as a passer.''
The Lions also landed the second-ranked kicker in the land, Texas' Anthony Fera, one of the premier linebackers in New Jersey run-stuffer Glenn Carson and Pennsylvania's players of the year in Class AA and A - West Catholic's Curtis Drake and Steelton-Highspire's Jordan Hill. Along with that, they got Maryland's Devon Smith, who recently timed at 4.19 seconds in the 40-yard dash and could make an instant impact as a return specialist.
While most everyone agrees that Shrive, Givens, Hodges, Brown, Newsome and Thomas are big-time recruits, it's players like Smith, Drake and Hill that are emblematic of a Nittany Lion class that gave recruiting experts a difficult time drawing a consensus. Possibly the fastest recruit in the nation, Smith's ranking was held down because he is only 5-6 and 145 pounds. Height also hindered Maryland's Stephon Morris, called by Lichtenfels an undervalued cover corner. Hill and West Mifflin's Adam Gress put on about 30 pounds each in the last year or so and moved to the line. Drake was recruited as a receiver but never played the position in high school.
''I have contacts with people who work for the Philadelphia Eagles that told me he was every bit as good as [Michigan blue-chip recruit] Je'Ron Stokes,'' Grosz said. ''It's just that he wasn't a wide receiver in high school. He played quarterback.''
Kersey was considered a hot commodity after last year's U.S. Army All-American Combine, then was hampered by injuries and academic questions. There's disagreement between scouting services as to whether Hodges can stay at safety or should be considered a linebacker prospect. Six-two, 230-pound running back Curtis Dukes is said to be faster than former Lion standout Curtis Enis, but he played against small-school competition in an area not known for producing big-time college football players.
Guard Mark Arcidiacono was good enough to draw a home visit from Florida before committing to Penn State, but he is only listed as a two-star recruit on Rivals' five-star scale. Even more puzzling is the diversity of evaluation on Milton Hershey tight end Garry Gilliam, a second-team USA Today All-American but only a two-star recruit according to Rivals and a three-star according to Scout.
''I think Devon Smith is underrated. Garry Gilliam is underrated,'' Wallace said.
Not even including Gilliam, Wallace had 10 of Penn State's recruits on his 287-player All-American list, just two fewer than USC and three less that LSU, which had the top-rated class.
By contrast, Prep Star had only Shrive in its top 100 and three other Lion recruits - Brown, Newsome and Givens - in its top 250. Prep Star did, however, have 13 Penn Staters on its all-Eastern or all-Atlantic regional teams.
The lack of blue-chippers didn't keep Duva from praising Penn State's class.
''Their class covers all their needs,'' Duva said. ''Everyone gets caught up in star [ratings]. But look at Boise State. They don't have one Prep Star All-American. Look at Joe McKnight. He was everybody's top player coming out of high school, but he's never really reached that level in college yet.''
Penn State might have been a little higher on the scouts' charts had a couple of top prospects made other decisions. The Lions lost out on Virginia cornerback Jordan Love to Georgia and Maryland corner Travis Hawkins to Maryland.
The two most highly-touted prospects Penn State missed out on, though, were linebackers Dorien Bell and Jelani Jenkins. The Lions never really seemed to get much of a shot at Bell, the Gateway product who committed early to Ohio State. However, they were in it to the end with Jenkins, an All-American from Maryland who picked Florida on signing day.
The Lions are well stocked at linebacker, which eases some of the pain of losing Bell and Jenkins. Not everyone thinks that is much solace to Penn State, though.
''When you [miss out] on a guy like Jenkins, it's a major loss,'' Grosz said. ''I think Navorro Bowman probably comes out for the NFL Draft after next year, and Jenkins would have stepped right into the starting lineup. They definitely could have used another quarterback, too.''
Lichtenfels, on the other hand, while admitting Jenkins, whom he called a difference-maker comparable to LaVar Arrington, thought missing out on Brown would have been a bigger blow to the Lions' recruiting class. Wallace added yet another thought.
''It's not the kids you lose that hurt you,'' Wallace said. ''It's the kids you sign that can't play.''
That means, if Wallace and his fellow scouts are on the mark, this class has the potential to keep Penn State in the top 15 and in contention for the Big Ten title for the next few years.