Peach Bowl Football

Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin and Penn State head coach James Franklin speak midfield after the Peach Bowl NCAA college football game between Penn State and Mississippi, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Atlanta. Mississippi won 38-25.

James Franklin plainly doesn’t like the unregulated NCAA transfer portal, but like every college football coach, he’s trying to make it work for him.

He says that means, ideally, working with prospects that Penn State, under Franklin, had recruited out of high school.

Put that approach together with a mandate to “Dominate the State (of Pennsylvania),’’ in recruiting, and we arrive at Nolan Rucci and Julian Fleming.

Fleming, an Ohio State wide receiver, last week confirmed what had been suspected for weeks: he was transferring to Penn State.

On the same day Fleming announced, Rucci, an offensive tackle from Warwick High, announced he was in the portal. By this weekend, he had also committed to Penn State.

Both Rucci and Fleming were five-star, elite recruits coming out of high school, and Penn State recruited them hard.

But Rucci, who will be a redshirt junior, appeared in only three games this year, although he did, famously, catch the winning touchdown pass in the Badgers’ 25-21 win at Illinois in October.

Rucci has been backup up Jack Nelson, the Badgers’ starter at left tackle. Nelson announced last week he was returning to Wisconsin for a fifth season.

Also, Nolan’s brother, Wisconsin tight end Hayden, announced he was turning pro. Paul Chryst, the Wisconsin head coach who recruited both Ruccis, was let go during the 2022 season.

Chryst ran a pro-style offense; new Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell runs a spread.

Little things add up.

A big thing: Penn State is losing both starting OTs, All-American Olu Fashanu and Caedan Wallace.

Junior Drew Shelton is the logical 2024 left tackle, but O-line room is now pretty dense with young, high-level recruits - true freshmen Anthony Donkoh and KJ’ven Williams (of Wyomissing High), Chimdy Onoh, Alex Birchmeier, Garrett Sexton, Cooper Cousins, etc.

With his length (6-8) and athleticism, Rucci seems like much more of a tackle than a center or guard.

Offensive linemen are like baseball pitchers, though. You can’t have too many of them.

When it comes to wide receivers, Penn State doesn’t have any of them, or at least any who’ve proven they can get open and make plays.

Why Penn State wanted Fleming is a lot more obvious than why he wanted Penn State.

Fleming was the No. 1 WR and No. 3 player overall, in the high school class of 2020. He finished four injury-riddled years in Columbus with 79 receptions for 963 yards and seven touchdowns.

His teammates Marvin Harrison and Emeka Egbuka emerged as two of the country’s best receivers, and Harrison was a 2023 Heisman Trophy finalist.

Again, there’s nobody like that in Penn State’s receivers’ room, and nobody like that figures to show up soon.

Fleming is a very solid 6-2, 210. He’s not really a deep threat, and is probably, ideally, a slot receiver. Realistically, he might be Penn State WR1.

Big picture, Franklin may never bring in dozens of transfers in any cycle.

But this offseason he has thus far gained four free agents (Rucci, Fleming, Wisconsin LB Jordan Mayer and Tulsa kicker Chase Meyer) and has apparently lost four (WR Dante Cephas, DL Jake Wilson, WR Cristian Driver and P Alex Bacchetti).

A clear net win, isn’t it? Not a paradigm-shifter, but a win.

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