Less than 21/2 months ago, Penn State football fans were in all-out panic mode about their team's 2011 football recruiting class.

On Nov. 7, the Nittany Lions had just four verbal commitments, and only one of those four was considered a true blue-chipper (rated four stars or above on a five-star scale). Some were predicting this might be the worst recruiting class in the Joe Paterno Era. The Chicken Little members of Nittany Nation were convinced the Happy Valley sky was falling.

Now, less than 11 weeks later, things don't look quite so bleak. The Lions' 2011 recruiting class now features 14 verbals, including four blue-chippers. And there may be more to come. National Letter of Intent Day is Feb. 2.

The latest commitment came Monday evening, when former Pitt recruit Bill Belton from Atco, N.J., decided to join PSU. The speedy Belton (5-9, 190) was a quarterback in high school, but he's expected to play wideout or defensive back in college. He was rated a four-star prospect by recruiting services Scout.com and Rivals.com.

He's the second former Pitt recruit to abandon the Panthers for the Nittany Lions in the wake of Dave Wannstedt's firing in early December. The other, of course, was Dallastown linebacker Ben Kline.

In many ways, Kline's switch opened the blue-chip floodgates at Penn State. Since Kline's change of heart on Dec. 8, Penn State has added five recruits, with three of them rated as four-star players.


Suddenly, a class that was rated near the bottom of the Big Ten in early November looks like it may turn out decently after all. The Lions' class is now ranked in the top half of the Big Ten (which features 12 teams with incoming Nebraska) by both Scout.com (sixth) and Rivals.com (fifth).

Overall, both services rate the Lions' 2011 recruits at No. 35 nationally. That's still not great, but it's a significant upgrade from where it was before December, when Scout.com had the Lions at No. 65.

Not all of Penn State's recent recruiting news has been good, however. One of Penn State's major recruiting targets, five-star defensive end Ishaq Williams from Brooklyn, N.Y., picked Notre Dame over the Lions on Friday.

Still, this Penn class was never going to be ranked really high. The Lions have fewer than 20 scholarships to offer and the programs with more recruits are typically ranked higher. And it was not a considered a great year in Penn State's traditional mid-Atlantic recruiting area. According to the experts, next year's mid-Atlantic class looks significantly stronger.

Yes, it's amazing what can happen in just a few months. The recruiting sky is no longer falling for Nittany Nation. Of course, it's still not a bright blue, either. Right now, let's just call it partly cloudy.

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dis patch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com or at 854-1575, ext. 455.