We ask this question with Penn State football practice only a month away:

Who is going to catch the football on this team next year?

Maybe you think that matters. Maybe you don't.

Here's why it does:

Because the fact that Penn State doesn't have one marquee receiver prospect waiting his turn -- doesn't even have a high-echelon high school senior they're going after -- says something significant about the program.

Or the fact that one of college football's great tailback schools hasn't landed a truly big-time tailback since Austin Scott and Tony Hunt in the winter of 2003.

Or that their only national-caliber quarterback recruits in recent memory (Anthony Morelli, Pat Devlin) actually decided to go elsewhere first.

Of course, Penn State can still recruit and develop defensive talent with the best of them. But the Lions seemingly lag farther behind when it comes to offensive difference-makers. Now, they are getting drilled by Ohio State in western Pennsylvania and pinched by Rutgers to the East.

The reasons?

Offensive skill players, like it or not, are a different sort. They're the superstars, the ones scoring the touchdowns, the ones on the highlight films. They're more glitz and glamour, and they want to play right away, probably even more so than their teammates.

And that's really not Penn State's style.

But the better reasons deal with coaching.


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For one, head coaches such as Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis and Michigan's Rich Rodriguez continue to kill Penn State because they are shaking hands and visiting recruits nonstop. They're aggressive, relentless.

Joe Paterno is not nearly as involved in this anymore.

And offensive coordinator Galen Hall? He doesn't recruit at all.

This is all why the Lions are forced to sign running backs who are undervalued (Evan Royster) or overlooked (Stephfon Green) and rely on receivers with no national recruiting interest whatsoever (Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood).

But they shouldn't have to do it that way.

They shouldn't be looking at a receiver stable of unproven Derek Moye and who-knows-what-else in 2009.

They shouldn't be battling only the likes of Connecticut, Boston College, Pitt and Virginia for most every skill player.

They shouldn't be forced to explain to high school seniors why their head coach vacationed at the beach during the week of their most important summer camp.

"Maybe they don't keep up with the times when it comes to national recruiting," said Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports. "Everybody now recruits nationally. Penn State really hasn't done that. You've got to sort of bend with the way things are. You've got to go where (the talent) is."

"Recruiting is establishing relationships. That's what (fans) don't understand," said Phil Grosz, who runs the State College-based Blue-White

Illustrated. Hall and offensive line coach Dick Anderson "are not the right type of personality, and they're older. It's a young man's game."

So that means things probably won't change until Paterno leaves.

Until then, figure that this team will resort to trying to win mid-level bowl games with its defense.

Frank Bodani covers Penn State football for the Daily Record/Sunday News. Reach him at 771-2104 orfbodani@ydr.com