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Q&A: ‘Godfather of Recruiting’ Mike Farrell Explains why Penn State isn’t Scary Anymore

For Mike Farrell, Penn State isn’t scary anymore.

Farrell, a national recruiting analyst known as the “Godfather of Recruiting,” sees Penn State and 14 other programs as schools that used to be intimidating but aren’t currently.

Farrell explained his reasoning with Nittany Sports Now, and here are his answers in this Q&A.

Nittany Sports Now: What makes you see Penn State as a team that isn’t scary anymore?

Mike Farrell: I think the last time they were scary was 2016. It’s been a while. They haven’t had good quarterback play— not elite quarterback play.

The old Joe Pa teams of the 90s and early 2000s scared a lot of people… since then, obviously, you had the sanctions in the early 2010s. Bill O’Brien was rebuilding. James Franklin got off to a fast start. But I think (this year’s team) could lose just as easily to Minnesota as they could give Ohio State a problem.

NSN: You said they haven’t been scary since 2016. Since 2016, they went 11-2 in 2017 and 11-2 in 2019, which is the same number of wins they had in 2016. So aside from them winning the Big Ten championship that year, what do you think made the 2016 team scary and the other two teams, with the same amount of wins, not as much?

MF: The teams (the 2016 team) beat to me are more important. I think 11 wins is great when you’re beating Ohio State, when you’re beating Michigan in the same year when the Big Ten is (strong). I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like to me, and again, they’re down on the list (No. 8). It doesn’t seem like they’ve had the same amount of quality victories as they did with that 2016 team.

2019 I think was a good year. But I’m trying to point to a real “difference-making across-the-country” type of victory. Whereas (in) 2016, they had those. And they really got robbed. They beat Ohio State. They won the Big Ten East and should have gone to the playoff. That, to me, is a scary football team.

But it’s not scary when you’re putting together 10 wins in a season and beating up multiple teams you’re supposed to beat but not pulling upsets or surprising people.

NSN: What’s your outlook for Penn State in 2022?
MF: I think it’s better than what people think, but the problem is the division is so strong. I think they have weapons for Sean Clifford. His play is going to really dictate how the offense goes and, of course, Nick Singleton’s impact.

Defensively, they have some question marks, but they’re probably a middle-tier defensive team. The issue is Ohio State is loaded, and there’s no way to stop them… And then you have Michigan and Michigan State, who are arguably better teams in your own division.

So there’s potential there, but Clifford’s going to have to take like a Kenny Pickett-type of step up. Really take his game to the next level, and (Receivers Parker) Washington and (Mitchell) Tinsley are going to have to just be absolutely outstanding and Singleton has to be everything that he needs to be for Penn State to be even a factor in their own division.

NSN: What’s the best case scenario, the worst case scenario and the most realistic scenario for Penn State?

MF: The best case scenario, I would say, 10-2.

Assuming there’s a loss at Michigan, or Ohio State, let’s assume they lose to one of the other two teams.

I think worst case, they lose to Purdue on the Thursday opener, they lose to Auburn at Auburn and they’re 1-2, and everybody’s calling for Franklin’s head and they have to work uphill the rest of the season without confidence. Kentucky’s doing well; (former Penn State quarterback) Will Levis is doing well. Worst case scenario possible for them would be a 7-5 year.

Realistically, I have them roughly 8-4.

Let’s say they lose to Ohio State, let’s say they beat one of Michigan and Michigan State, they’re going to lose one of those two road games early, I believe, so there’s three losses right there, and then they’re going to have a clunker. Whether it’s the Minnesota game or the Maryland game, you can just count on a clunker.

NSN: When do you think Penn State will be scary again?
MF: I’m going to be honest with you, and people are going to be upset about this, but with the way NIL’s going, recruiting, the only team I see in the foreseeable future winning a national championship up north is Ohio State.

Can (Penn State) make an extended playoff? Sure.

Will they compete for a national title? In the foreseeable future, I don’t see that.

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