Joe Paterno is sick, and the Nittany Nation is abuzz over how much that's hurting Penn State's tiny and unimpressive recruiting class for 2011.
The Lions have only two verbal commitments so far, and there's no denying it's a problem.
"When you look at Penn State, the fans will measure it by what Pitt does and Ohio State and Michigan," Scout.com recruiting analyst Bob Lichtenfels said. "You know what? Those schools have a lot of verbals right now, and [PSU is] getting beat on some kids that they normally don't get beat on."
Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Joe Paterno’s health is a possible concern with recruiting efforts as Penn State has just two verbal commitments
Here's how many verbals other prominent schools have for 2011:
* 17 for Ohio State
* 13 for Nebraska
* 9 for Pitt
* 8 for Iowa
* 7 for Michigan
* 5 for Wisconsin
The silver lining in this recruiting issue is that Penn State doesn't need many incoming freshmen next year.
"They've got a small class, which means you kind of have to be a little pickier," Lichtenfels said. "When you can only sign 14 or 15 kids as opposed to 25, you're going to lose out on a lot of kids."
Considering that, it's not like the sky is falling having only two verbals right now, and Lichtenfels noted PSU faithful shouldn't be overly concerned with signing day still seven months away.
There is concern, though, over the type of players Penn State has yet to land. One example is New Jersey defensive tackle Marquise Wright, a four-star recruit who committed to Pitt.
"When you lose kids like that, that hurts," Lichtenfels said. "That's New Jersey, an area where they've been strong in."
The Lions also have been strong in other neighboring states, and they'll have to be again for 2011 considering the lack of elite talent and depth in Pennsylvania.
"It is down," Lichtenfels said. "It's very down compared to two years and three years ago with Terrelle Pryor and Jonathan Baldwin, those types of kids."
ESPN Radio host Scott Van Pelt used his "One big thing" segment Thursday to rip Penn State's small recruiting class and questioned whether Paterno's age and health are finally catching up to the Lions.
Other state and national media have jumped on the bandwagon in recent days and used the small class as a barometer to judge Paterno and his ability at this point to lead the program.
It is a concern, and anyone who believes otherwise needs to stop viewing JoePa entirely through rose-colored glasses. The legendary coach is 83 years old, and no matter how great of shape he's always been in, an 83-year-old's body is susceptible to any number of problems.
Intestinal issues have been to blame for Paterno skipping three high-profile speaking engagements since mid-May, and no one outside of the program knows the truth about the severity of his illness.
Best-case scenario: It's not that big of a deal and he just needed some rest.
Worst-case scenario: Things are worse than PSU officials are letting on and JoePa faces the very real possibility of being unable to coach this fall.
It's been several years since Paterno was healthy and/or willing enough to make recruiting trips. Penn State has managed to hold its own in recruiting despite that, but there still could come a day when Tom Bradley and Larry Johnson won't be able to work all the magic.
"Joe Paterno is an icon. He is, and that's big for people our age," Lichtenfels said. "But these kids, if they don't know him and talk to him, then he's just Joe Paterno.
"The recruiting game nowadays, you have a lot of head coaches that are directly involved in this stuff. When the coach is out there representing the university and they're the main figurehead, that means a lot. Joe physically can't do that anymore."
That's where the negative recruiting comes in, and there's no getting around the fact that college football's dirty little secret does occur when other schools discuss PSU and Paterno.
"There's other Big Ten teams that do it to Penn State," Lichtenfels said.
"In today's society, that's a big business, and they're going to use any advantage they can get. You sit here and watch TV, you'll see McDonald's commercials badmouthing Burger King, and you'll see Burger King commercials badmouthing McDonald's."
Until Paterno makes a public appearance and proves he is in good health - like at next month's Big Ten media days - it's a sure bet more and more opposing coaches will be using his illness against Penn State in the recruiting wars.
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.