How Penn State and Pitt have fared on Pennsylvania recruiting turf during James Franklin era

Penn State and Pitt play against each other for a second straight season 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions, fresh off a 52-0 season-opening victory over Akron, aim to continue the strong start by avenging a 2016 loss to the Panthers.

These programs previously hadn’t met since 2000, and Pitt’s 42-39 home win last September ultimately contributed toward Penn State narrowly missing College Football Playoff inclusion. There is plenty of familiarity among opponents here, as the Nittany Lions carry an all-time record of 50-43-4 against Pitt.

More recently than the matchups that span three centuries, current rosters are composed of many in-state prospects. Many of these Pennsylvania products faced off, or competed together, on high school football fields prior to embarking on collegiate careers.

We’re going to examine how both teams have fared on home recruiting turf since the January 2014 arrival of James Franklin in Happy Valley. Current Wisconsin coach Pat Chryst led the Panthers then, until Pat Narduzzi took over his program 11 months later.

It’s no surprise they’ve chased common recruits throughout this span.

Penn State certainly has a proximal advantage in Central Pennsylvania and eastern communities including Philadelphia, while Pitt is surrounded by outstanding prep football in Western Pennsylvania. Both programs routinely attempt to pry talent away from neighboring states such as Maryland and New Jersey, but out focus here is on progress in Pennsylvania.

Let’s go through year-by-year since Franklin came to State College, exploring both teams’ success with prospects considered top-25 overall talents in the state, according to 247Sports composite rankings. We’ll also dive into the acquisition of blue-chip recruits, who carry a rating of 4- or 5-star.

2014 recruiting class

Top-25 Pennsylvania prospects signed: Pittsburgh 4, Penn State 3

Blue-chip Pennsylvania prospects signed: Pittsburgh 1, Penn State 0

Top-ranked Pennsylvania signees: Penn State: No. 12 Troy Apke (athlete; Pittsburgh); Pitt: No. 3 Alex Bookser (offensive lineman; Pittsburgh)

This was an extremely abbreviated recruiting cycle for Franklin, who inherited eventual Penn State standouts such as linebacker Jason Cabinda and Mike Gesicki from former Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien’s collection of commitments. A strong close included a few of his past Vanderbilt pledges from beyond the region, including quarterback Trace McSorley, and California defender Koa Farmer. This cycle featured a large exodus of top Pennsylvania talent, as Montae Nicholson (Michigan State), JJ Cosentino (Florida State), Dravon Askew-Henry (West Virginia) and Malik Hooker (Ohio State) are among those who moved on elsewhere.

2015 recruiting class

Top-25 Pennsylvania prospects signed: Penn State 11, Pittsburgh 4

Blue-chip Pennsylvania prospects signed: Penn State 6, Pittsburgh 1

Top-ranked Pennsylvania signees: Penn State: No. 2 Saquon Barkley (running back; Whitehall); Pitt: No. 1 Jordan Whitehead (cornerback; Monaca)

This time it was Pittsburgh dealing with a coaching change, as Chryst bolted for Wisconsin in December and was soon replaced by Narduzzi, who previously served as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator. Whitehead became an instant standout on the ACC stage, though he is currently serving a three-game suspension due to a violation of team rules. Penn State signed six of Pennsylvania’s top seven recruits this cycle, headlined by Heisman Trophy hopeful Barkley. Cornerback John Reid and defensive end Shareef Miller were key additions from Philadelphia, while Ryan Bates and Ryan Buchholz helped the Nittany Lions dominate in the trenches against Akron.

saquon-barkley-penn-state
Saquon Barkley committed to Rutgers at the start of his junior season but ultimately signed with Penn State, emerging as one of the program’s all-time greats. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

2016 recruiting class

Top-25 Pennsylvania prospects signed: Pitt 7, Penn State 4

Blue-chip Pennsylvania prospects signed: Penn State 3, Pitt 1

Top-ranked Pennsylvania signees: Penn State: No. 1 Miles Sanders (running back; Pittsburgh); Pitt: No. 3 Damar Hamlin (cornerback; Pittsburgh)

Penn State again signed the premier offensive prospect in Pennsylvania, landing Miles Sanders from the Panthers’ neighborhood. Four-star offensive linemen Michal Menet and Connor McGovern gave the Nittany Lions more top-10 Pennsylvania recruits than any program. Sports hernia surgeries have impacted Hamlin’s young football career. There is plenty of potential in this class for both programs but it’s still too early to properly assess these players as most are still battling to crack the two-deep.

2017 recruiting class

Top-25 Pennsylvania prospects signed: Penn State 5, Pitt 4

Blue-chip Pennsylvania prospects signed: Penn State 3, Pitt 1

Top-ranked Pennsylvania signees: Penn State: No. 2 Lamont Wade (cornerback; Clairton); Pitt: No. 3 Paris Ford (cornerback; Pittsburgh)

The Nittany Lions tied Notre Dame for most top-10 Pennsylvania signees (three), though it couldn’t welcome 4-star defensive end Damion Barber to campus until midway through training camp due to academic requirements. A similar situation played out at Pitt with Ford, so those late starts make 2018 a more realistic time to evaluate those additions. Wade was a huge pickup for Penn State, and one that particularly stung for the nearby Panthers.

2018 recruiting class (in progress)

Top-25 Pennsylvania prospects committed: Penn State 7, Pitt 3

Blue-chip Pennsylvania prospects committed: Penn State 4, Pitt 0

Top-ranked Pennsylvania commits: Penn State: No. 3 Zack Kuntz (tight end; Camp Hill); Pitt: No. 17 Blake Zubovic (offensive lineman, Belle Vernon)

Although Penn State feel to Pitt last season, the Nittany Lions went on to win 10 of 12 remaining games, claiming a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl appearance. The Panthers also defeated eventual national champion Clemson in 2016, so both squads provided prospects with exclamation points to consider. Now five months away from National Signing Day, Penn State is piecing together one of it’s finest recruiting classes ever, listed No. 3 overall in 247Sports 2018 composite rankings. Pitt sits at 54th overall on that list. The Nittany Lions previously held a pledge from Pennsylvania’s top overall prospect this cycle ― Harrisburg edge rusher Micah Parsons ― and he hasn’t ruled out a return to the class. Penn State claims commitments from six of the state’s top 12 recruits. Kwantel Raines, a 4-star safety from Aliquippa who holds an offer from both schools, will attend the game Saturday.

Five-cycle totals

Top-25 Pennsylvania prospects signed/committed: Penn State 30, Pitt 22

Blue-chip Pennsylvania prospects signed committed: Penn State 16, Pitt 4

The post How Penn State and Pitt have fared on Pennsylvania recruiting turf during James Franklin era appeared first on Land of 10.

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