UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Five months ago, Penn State put the finishing touches on a strong 2010 football recruiting class that many experts ranked among the top 10 in the country.
Since then, the Nittany Lions have been slow to secure prospects for their class of 2011. They have just three verbal commitments, the fewest among Big Ten Conference schools.
Scout.com has Penn State at No. 64 in its 2011 recruiting rankings and No. 10 among 11 Big Ten schools.
Texas is No. 1 with 22 commitments and 11 top-100 prospects, followed by No. 2 Ohio State with 17 and five. Indiana leads the Big Ten with 20 verbal commitments, which are not binding until national signing day in early February.
"Penn State is lagging behind this year in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio, states where they are normally very strong," said national recruiting expert Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports and Maxpreps.com. "I don't expect Penn State to have a real good year in recruiting, unless they go outside of their normal states.
"The majority of the good kids already are gone in Pennsylvania, and there weren't many to begin with. There still are a few good ones left in New Jersey, but it's a pretty weak year there, too. And many of the top players are gone in Ohio. If things don't turn around soon, Penn State could find itself in sort of a panic mode."
Mike Farrell, a recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, said there's a major reason why the Lions have fallen so far behind.
"Penn State was a little slow out of the gate," Farrell said. "A lot of the major prospects had written offers from colleges as juniors. But Penn State had only sent out three written offers as of February and didn't reach double digits until late March. Meanwhile, schools such as Pitt, Rutgers, Florida and Ohio State all offered much earlier and were much more aggressive."
Penn State received a verbal commitment May 26 from Delaware tight end Kyle Carter, rated a two-star recruit (out of five) by Scout.com. It was another 36 days before defensive end Shawn Oakman from Lansdowne, Pa., became the second to commit. Defensive end Jordan Kerner from Fairview joined him six days later. Oakman is rated a four-star recruit by Scout.com; Kerner a three-star recruit.
"Oakman could be great player for Penn State," Lemming said. "He's a physical specimen. He is an NFL player right now. He's an All-American. With good coaching, he will be a No. 1 draft pick."
Penn State's 2011 class is expected to range between 14 and 18 players. The fact that no WPIAL players appear on Lemming's list of the top 100 players in the country does not help the Lions.
Penn State's approach cost it three highly rated players -- Maryland defensive back Brandon Phelps (Virginia), New Jersey defensive tackle Marquise Wright (Pitt) and Oil City, Pa., tight end Ben Koyack (Notre Dame).
"Penn State had those three guys penciled in as verbal commitments," Farrell said. "And when they lost them, everyone freaked out and started to worry.
"I still think Penn State is going to be OK. I still think they will get some good football players and finish among the top three teams in the Big Ten. But their class won't be anywhere near as good as it was last year."
New Jersey's Angelo Mangiro, one of the country's top guards, very well could choose Penn State later this month. The Lions also are in the running for several other solid players.
That is surprising, considering that Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno, 83, has not visited a prospect since Terrelle Pryor in late January 2008 at Jeannette High School -- Pryor, the country's No. 1 recruit, eventually chose Ohio State -- and offensive coordinator Galen Hall, 69, doesn't recruit at all.
"Joe Paterno is an icon, he's the biggest name in a college football," Lemming said. "If he's not out there on the road matching up against the Urban Meyers and Lane Kiffins of the world, it is not going to help your program; it is only going to hurt it.
"Paterno is the biggest weapon Penn State has. Kids want to see him and say he came to their house or school."
Wide receiver Derek Moye from Rochester remembers when Paterno visited his high school during the recruiting process in late January 2007.
"It was a pretty big day," Moye said. "They shut down the whole school and they let a lot of teachers and students come into the meeting room, where there was a half hour to hour autograph session. [Coach Paterno] was signing, and I was watching.
"It was a big experience for the whole town because I was one of the last people he came to see, and it was his last visit to Beaver County."
Maryland defensive tackle Darian Cooper, who already has visited Penn State and is considering the Lions among numerous Division I offers, said Paterno wouldn't factor into his final decision.
"When I was up there for my visit [in April], coach Paterno was very lively," Cooper said. "He was jogging around the practice field and he actually threw a few shadow punches at me. He is a great guy.
"I know he is the cornerstone of that program, the face of that program, but I can't really say he will be the determining factor in whether I go to Penn State or not."
Paterno was sidelined for nearly two months this spring by intestinal problems. He was forced to cancel three "Evening With Joe" appearances in Pittsburgh, Hershey and Philadelphia and he skipped a meeting of Big Ten athletic directors and coaches in Chicago.
Farrell strongly believes that Penn State's recruiting will improve once college football's winningest coach retires or steps aside.
"The job [recruiting coordinator] Mike McQueary and the rest of the Penn State coaches have done the last five years has been simply astounding, considering all the restrictions they are under with Paterno and Hall not on the road and not recruiting," Farrell said.
"When Paterno is gone, I think Penn State's recruiting will improve tremendously. They will have a younger, more energetic person in charge who will go on the road and compete with all the top coaches for the best players in the country."
Ron Musselman: firstname.lastname@example.org .