The recruitment of top-level high school football players is an inexact science at best. Just because an excellent prospect gives an oral commitment before his senior year to a program rich in history and tradition doesn't necessarily mean he will honor it.
In the last seven weeks, Penn State and head coach James Franklin have seen two of the program's consensus five-star commitments rescind their pledges and reopen their recruitments.
The latter withdrawal came Tuesday night, when 6-foot-3, 210-pound Justin Fields, considered the No. 1 high school dual-threat quarterback in the nation in the class of 2018 by three recruiting web sites, went on Twitter to announce what he called "probably the hardest decision I've had to make."
"My decision to reopen my recruitment is in no way a reflection of any deficiencies of [Penn State], its coaches, players or fans," said Fields, of Kennesaw, Ga. "I still believe that PSU is a great academic and athletic opportunity for any student athlete and it will remain one of the top schools that I would consider."
Brian Dohn, national recruiting analyst for Scout.com, said Fields apparently was "a little more focused on the recruiting scene since it's his turn and his cycle now.
"The realization comes, 'I've picked my school. This is where I'm going. Wait, did I do my due diligence on everyone else?' " Dohn said. "I think there's a lot of that stuff. Then you're looking at a kid from Georgia going to school in Pennsylvania. Going away from home is not easy for kids. Then you get some love nearby, and all of a sudden you start thinking a lot more."
Fields has gotten plenty of love from SEC schools. Florida is "making a huge push for him," Dohn said. Reports are that Florida State and Louisiana State have made Fields a top target, and Auburn, Alabama, and Georgia are very interested.
Penn State lost another five-star recruit April 23, when defensive end Micah Parsons of Harrisburg, considered a top-10 prospect by all recruiting services, announced he had rescinded his commitment.
Parsons and Fields committed relatively early in the process. Parsons was Franklin's first pledge for the class of 2018, giving his word midway through his sophomore year. Fields was No. 6, committing last Dec. 1.
"With Micah, that one was coming for a while," Dohn said. "He committed really early. His parents told him, 'You need to see more.' Then it became more his [recruiting] cycle. It's a natural evolution. When you're that high profile, these coaches at other schools are really good recruiters, and kids aren't going to say no to them.
"With Fields, I think there's been a lot of chatter behind the scenes about something happening there. I think in both instances, it's just more circumstance with the kid."
Fields' stock has risen in recent weeks, having earned an invitation to the Elite 11 competition and then winning a spot in the finals of The Opening, an annual showcase held later this month at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon.
Penn State has four quarterbacks on the current roster - Trace McSorley (class of 2018), Tommy Stevens (2019), Jake Zembiec (2020), and incoming freshman Sean Clifford (2021) - but Franklin is expected to try to find another one
"Their energy was focused on keeping [Fields], so once he decommits, you go elsewhere," Dohn said. "It's not like they can go out and see a kid throw or get him to campus tomorrow, so it gives them a little bit of time to make decisions on where they want to go."
He added that those in Happy Valley shouldn't fret. The Lions still are ranked between fourth and sixth in the nation with 12 commitments for 2018.
"Penn State still has a great class with a lot of great players in it," he said.