Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

O-line prospect decommits from PSU

Mark this one as a major surprise, and not a good one for Penn State.

Grant Toutant, a longtime verbal commit to Penn State, suddenly announced Sunday that he was changing course with his recruitment, decommiting from the Nittany Lions and offering a verbal pledge to Ohio State.

In a statement released on his Twitter account, Toutant said the recruiting process has turned him into “a completely different person and athlete (than) I was a year ago, a month ago, even a week ago.” When he committed to Penn State last fall, he was a consensus three-star prospect out of Michigan, a little-known lineman all things considered.

Now, he’s not a little-known lineman. 247sports gave him a fourth star in their rating, and eight months away from signing day, he was bound to get more offers. Certainly, this is his prerogative, but Toutant originally committed to the best offer he had at the time, then he decommitted to commit to Ohio State, which most fans around the country would probably consider a better offer right now. You’ll see a lot of guys doing this, I’m guessing.

It should also be noted that even with Toutant’s reversal, Penn State has five offensive line recruits in the Class of 2020, including four four-star guys.

Another Lackawanna star commits to Penn State

Norval Black headshotClearly, Penn State’s relationship with Lackawanna College is growing stronger on the football recruiting front.

Norval Black, a 6-foot-1 receiver with good speed, exceptional hands and a strong freshman season with the Falcons under his belt, verbally committed to the Nittany Lions after a strong camp in Happy Valley over the weekend.

Penn State represented Black’s first Football Bowl Subdivision offer, and he accepted it by the end of the camp. Lackawanna fans know Black pretty well: He was one of the players featured prominently in a Washington Post article written about the Falcons program in April.

A little more than a week after Southern Columbia standout Julian Fleming — once considered the Nittany Lions’ top target in the 2020 recruiting class — verbally committed to Ohio State, the Nittany Lions got back on the receiver wagon by landing Black. Last season at Lackawanna, Black tallied 445 receiving yards and five touchdowns, both good for second on the team. But, he did all that with just 15 catches.

Lackawanna’s offense is pretty run-based, and the Falcons had a handful of solid receivers last season — Javon Turner went to UMass after the season, Harrison Dreher ended up at IUP and tight end James Stanley went to Hampton — so there weren’t a ton of opportunities for a newcomer like Black to get looks. That said, he averaged 29.7 yards per catch, so he obviously made the most of what he got in his debut season.

He’ll be Lackawanna’s No. 1 target in the receiving game this fall and with plans to join the Nittany Lions’ 2020 class. If he winds up signing, he’ll have two years to play three.

Five ’19 game times, plus Blue-White date, announced by PSU

Penn State announced the kickoff times of five games for the 2019 season, including ones for the series finale against rival Pittsburgh, the Friday-night clash with Maryland and the homecoming tilt against Purdue.

The Nittany Lions’ season opener against Idaho on Aug. 31 will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and air on the Big Ten Network.

FOX will broadcast live in primetime from Beaver Stadium the following week, Sept. 7, when the Nittany Lions host Buffalo at 7:30 p.m.

ABC will have the Pitt game at noon on Sept. 14, and the Nittany Lions will travel to Maryland on Friday, Sept. 27, for an 8 p.m. kick on FS1.

Finally, the Purdue game on Oct. 5 will kick at noon and will be an ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 broadcast.

So, the Nittany Lions are once again going to be all over the clock in the first part of the season, with two noon kicks, a pair of primetime affairs and a 3:30 mixed in. It promises to be a bit of a theme throughout the season, too, because pretty much all of the remaining October games (at Iowa, the Whiteout game vs. Michigan and at Michigan State) are potential later-in-the-day kicks. Not to mention, the Nittany Lions travel to Columbus to play Ohio State on Nov. 23, which almost certainly won’t kick before 3:30.

For way-down-the-road planning purposes, the 2020 Blue-White Game has a date: April 18. It’s looking at, as always, an early to mid-afternoon kick.


Revamped bowl lineup coming to Big Ten

Guess this can be considered bad news for fans of the Holiday Bowl, but good news for fans who might want to hit the occasional new bowl destination every December: The Big Ten announced today a bit of a restructured bowl lineup, coming to terms on six-year contracts with the Belk, Cheez-It and Las Vegas Bowls. The conference also announced six-year extensions with the Citrus, Music City, Outback, Quick Lane and Redbox Bowls. It also extended its agreement with the Pinstripe Bowl, the annual battle at Yankee Stadium, through 2025.

The changes take effect after the 2020 season.

Cheez-It Bowl logo

The Cheez-It Bowl will host a Big Ten team every year through the 2025-26 season.

In essence, the Belk, Cheez-It and Las Vegas Bowls replace past tie-ins with the Holiday, TaxSlayer and First Responders Bowls. The Cheez-It Bowl will host a Big Ten team every year of the agreement, while the Las Vegas and Belk Bowls will rotate; each will get three conference teams over the six-year agreement.

Basically, this now gives the Big Ten potential tie-ins to bowls in eight different states — Arizona (Cheez-It), California (Rose and Redbox), Florida (Orange, Citrus, Outback), Michigan (Quick Lane), North Carolina (Belk), Nevada (Las Vegas), New York (Pinstripe) and Tennessee (Music City), in addition to potential College Football Playoff destinations. So, it does what the Big Ten always likes to do: Expand the footprint into bigger, metropolitan areas like Charlotte, Phoenix and Las Vegas.


Warren officially named next Big Ten commissioner

Warren officially named next Big Ten commissioner

Kevin Warren will be the next commissioner of the Big Ten, the conference announced Tuesday. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

He was never considered the obvious choice for the job, but former Minnesota Vikings executive Kevin Warren will be the next commissioner of the Big Ten.

The conference’s Council of Presidents formally announced today that Warren will be the Big Ten’s sixth commissioner, starting his new job on Sept. 16. He’ll transition into the role alongside current commissioner Jim Delany, one of the most transformative figures in the conference’s history. Delany announced he will step down from his post on Jan. 1, 2020.

Warren has worked with the Vikings since 2005, his most recent role being chief operating officer. He is the first African-American COO in NFL history and was, until he accepted the Big Ten job, the highest ranking African American working on the business side in the league.

“I am absolutely honored to become the sixth commissioner of the Big Ten, a conference with such rich history, tradition and respect,” Warren said. “The opportunity is an incredible and unique blend of my lifelong passion, commitment and experience. Positively impacting the lives of young adults has always been part of the fabric of my family and I will work tirelessly with our member schools to ensure that we are providing every possible best-in-class resource to enhance our students’ educational and athletic experience, as well as empower them for success upon graduation.”

Michael V. Drake, president of Ohio State, said the council was impressed with Warren’s “broad experience,” commitment and vision. Indiana president Michael A. McRobbie called Warren “a visionary leader.”

Wallenpaupack’s Vasey signs with Atlanta

Wallenpaupack’s Vasey signs with Atlanta

Kyle Vasey started his football career at Delaware Valley High School in New Jersey, a school where the football program is so popular and the fight for playing time so fierce, he figured there was a shot he’d never even start a game.

Now, he’s heading to the NFL.

Penn State’s long-snapper and a graduate of Wallenpaupack High School, Vasey announced Saturday that he has signed a contract with the Atlanta Falcons, where he will be on the 90-man roster when OTAs start in a few weeks.

Vasey went to Penn State as a preferred walk-on in 2014 after a successful career as a snapper and defensive end for the Buckhorns. He became Penn State’s starting long-snapper in 2017, and by 2018, he earned a scholarship with the Nittany Lions.

It’s an interesting opportunity for Vasey. The Falcons have a pretty good long snapper, 30-year-old Josh Harris, who has twice signed long contract extensions with Atlanta. The most recent came last November, a three-year deal that could keep him in red and black through the 2021 season. A month after signing that extension, though, Harris suffered a season-ending hip injury that landed him on injured reserve. So, Harris is almost certain to miss mini camp, and given salary cap constrictions in the NFL, it is worth wondering whether a team with a long snapper on a long deal coming off a significant injury might want to look for a younger, cheaper, potentially healthier option.

That made the Falcons one of the coveted landing spots for hopeful long snappers, and it’s a good sign for Vasey that he’s the one who got the call there.

Worst-case scenario: Harris comes back healthy in August. But not until Vasey gets a lot of looks in Falcons camp and someone else decides he’s a better option that what they have.

Best-case scenario: He wins the job.

So, for Vasey, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.

Tommy Stevens is leaving: 5 things to consider

Tommy Stevens is leaving: 5 things to consider

Sean Clifford got some playing time in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky in January, but he’s the relatively inexperienced leader of Penn State’s offense now that Tommy Stevens has decided to transfer. JOHN RAOUX / ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

On Thursday morning, I published a post about Tommy Stevens’ entrance into the transfer portal. Today, it’s a post about life at Penn State after Tommy Stevens.

Late Thursday afternoon, word broke courtesy of the Centre Daily Times that Stevens would not return to the Nittany Lions in the fall. So, the next step for Stevens is to determine where his next opportunity comes and how much he’ll impact that particular program. That comes later.

Now, though, we take another five-step look at what Stevens’ departure means for the Nittany Lions.

1.) There’s no longer a real quarterback battle coming in August.

Sure, OK…nobody has a starting spot locked up. Everyone has to go out and earn it. Nobody should assume anything. I know what the coaches are going to say, and they should say that. At the end of the day, technically, it’s all true in a way.

But Sean Clifford is going to be Penn State’s quarterback this fall, barring injury.

Clifford took the majority of first-team snaps in the spring, played most of the Blue-White Game under center, completed 11 of 19 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, and actually led the Blue squad in rushing yards (31). Which is as much proof as we have that…

2.) Clifford might be enough of a fit for the Penn State offense.

This has been a bit of a concern with Clifford, whose perceived strengths more closely resemble Christian Hackenberg’s strengths than Trace McSorley’s.

But leading up to Blue-White, head coach James Franklin praised Clifford’s competitiveness, saying that it helped him hit the weight room hard, “change his body” and become a more capable runner.

“Because of his competitiveness and how prideful he is, he went from a guy who most people would list as a true pro-style quarterback to one who I think is a guy who is a legitimate dual threat guy who can hurt you in many ways,” Franklin said.

Last season, McSorley rushed for 798 yards. It’s sort of unrealistic to think Clifford matches that. While I don’t think there were as many designed runs for McSorley — who seemed to improvise well when plays broke down — as one might think the last few years, there were certainly more than you’d work in there for a redshirt sophomore who doesn’t have his speed or total grasp of the offense. But the question is, when the play breaks down, can Clifford make enough plays on the run? And maybe Franklin’s words and his Blue-White performance provide some hope in that regard.

If they don’t…

3.) Penn State’s quarterback room still looks pretty good.

Ideally, Stevens would have put a chokehold on the starting spot this spring.

He would have been a senior. He’s a tremendous physical talent. He has a strong arm and an unquestioned ability to move the ball on the ground. He’d have been a great bridge from McSorley to what really is a talented, but young and inexperienced, group of quarterbacks that would have been behind him.

Good as Clifford looked last year, he has thrown seven career passes. That’s…not a lot.

But, he’s uber talented, and some think he has a bright career after he leaves PSU.

Teams throw inexperienced quarterbacks into the starting lineup all the time and are fine. Ohio State will do that this season, and they’ll open the season ranked in the top 10. Clemson did it last year and won the national championship. Quarterbacks come in as freshmen more prepared than they’ve ever been, and this is Clifford’s third season in the system. He’ll develop.

But Penn State has some pretty good prospects behind him, too. Will Levis goes from fourth-stringer to backup this season, and he’s kind of a Stevens type, a massive guy with a big arm who can make every throw. True freshman Ta’Quan Roberson is a McSorley type who has a dual-threat skillset but keeps his eyes downfield in the passing game and can make things happen when things break down. Another freshman, Michael Johnson Jr., had a good spring game, even if he looked a little raw.

A true competition in August, something Franklin said would be necessary when Stevens was still in the fold, probably isn’t going to happen. But it would be a benefit for Penn State — and Clifford, frankly — if a legitimate challenger could emerge from that group.

If one can’t…

4.) Will Penn State be going through this whole process again soon?

Young quarterbacks work their entire high school careers to be big-time college players, spend countless nights dreaming of the NFL and national championships, and they know the best way to get there is to play major college football in the biggest conferences.

The drawback to that is, only 64 such starting jobs exist (65, counting Notre Dame). The competition for those roles is fierce, and Tommy Stevens found that out once he got to the point where McSorley was gone and he figured he should inherit the one of those 65 jobs he put time into earning.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Clifford is really good. Let’s say he stays in school for three more years — although, if he’s that good, he’ll likely be able to leave school with his degree after his junior season in 2020. What does that do to the construct of the Penn State quarterback room moving forward?

If Clifford is Penn State’s quarterback in 2021 — and that’s a long way off, but again, this is just for the sake of debate — Penn State will essentially have had three starting quarterbacks in nine years. This is not a job that is opening up a lot, and essentially, it puts a really good prospect like Levis in Stevens’ position. That could have an effect on recruiting, and it certainly will make the transfer portal popular with Nittany Lions quarterbacks who play behind the starter.

That’s going on everywhere, of course. But it’s something Penn State fans are going to have to accept as part of doing business. Which is enough to make you wonder…

5.) Should the transfer portal and the state of the quarterback position in college football ultimately change the way Penn State recruits QBs?

This is an interesting thought I’ve been considering long before Stevens’ decision.

Franklin and his staff have said they’d like to bring in at least one quarterback in every recruiting class. They have Micah Bowens, a three-star prospect out of Las Vegas, verbally committed to the 2020 class. In the 2019 class, they added Johnson Jr. and Roberson. In 2018, they got Levis and, at one point, had Justin Fields (formerly of Georgia, currently of Ohio State) committed at one point. In 2017, Clifford joined. In 2016, the added the since-retired Jake Zembiec. In 2015, Stevens came in. In 2014, they added McSorley and four-star recruit Michael O’Connor, who left the program shortly afterward.

That’s every one of Franklin’s recruiting classes including at least one quarterback.

That puts you at four, maybe five, scholarship quarterbacks on every roster. Certainly, Penn State isn’t going to look to go less in the near term, until the real effects of the transfer portal are sorted out. But I come from a baseball background, and baseball front offices are always looking for ways to maximize roster use and sort out inefficiencies in past thinking. In five-to-10 years, are we going to be looking at rosters with that many scholarship quarterbacks, considering how many of them conceivably could look to transfer each season, and to increase the chances quarterbacks have to legitimately compete for a starting job?

Or, are we going to be looking at rosters with a few more scholarship quarterbacks on it, to compensate for potential losses?

Fact is, we don’t know where this is going, because the transfer portal is so new. Essentially, players are free agents now, considering the amount of waivers granted to players wishing to play immediately this past offseason. It’s an intriguing discussion, one that is certainly going to evolve as the years pass and the transfer portal settles in.

Kentucky defensive end T.J. Carter (90) sacks Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford (14) during the second half of the Citrus Bowl NCAA college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

REPORT: Stevens leaving PSU

It looks like Penn State won’t have much of a quarterback battle after all in August.

The Centre Daily Times is reporting that senior quarterback Tommy Stevens has decided he will leave Penn State and play his final collegiate season elsewhere, according to his father. Stevens entered the transfer portal on Wednesday.

Obviously, we’ll have more on this as the story develops.