In the lead-up to national signing day Wednesday, I was asked to do a story summing up Penn State’s recruiting class. The writers for Pitt and West Virginia were asked to do so, too. The editors decided mine would go first and be the longest, a nod to the fact it was by far the highest-rated by the industry experts and websites. But instead of doing the general, easy “this class is rated so high – boy, can James Franklin recruit!” angle that would be, frankly, lazy, I wanted to dig into it and see if any other trends could be identified.
We had already done the locally-pushed angle of the PSU-vs.-Pitt aspect of this, too. After considering a positional breakdown or a look into the types of athletes/players/kids that were committing, it ended up the trend that was most identifiable was the in-state aspect of recruiting. In fact, what I found was surprising.
Citing Frankin’s “dominate the state” mantra, again, has become clichéd and passé. Too many people have taken it and run with it. But at the same time, he did say it, and he knew when he did (he had to) that he’d be evaluated on it. So, that’s a start. It takes away the “OHMIGOD THIS CLASS IS SO GOOD” look at it and instead break down a particular segment of it.
I knew Penn State had zero of the (per Rivals) top 10 PA players last season. But what I was absolutely blown away by was that, even well before the sanctions – and even as the team was in the top 10 on the field and playing in major bowls – that it STILL was not getting much at all of Pennsylvania’s top talent over the final decade of the Joe Paterno tenure.
I went through and looked at the top 10 prospects in Pennsylvania every year that Rivals provided them (dating to 2003). I was floored at, on whole, how few were going to Penn State. As I wrote, just a quarter of the top 10 from each of those years (30 of 120) did. Since 2008, it’s been even worse. Tossing aside a strong contingent of six from the overall-solid 2010 incoming class, there were a total of six from the previous six classes! That’s almost unfathomable to me – astounding that a large, Power 5 conference school with rich history playing at the second-biggest stadium in the country would do so poorly in attracting kids from its home state.
Again, I’ll say that Penn State was largely successful on the field in this time (until the NCAA stepped in, anyway), which just proves the overall point that (for better or worse) Pennsylvania isn’t as rich of a talent base as some here like to believe. But still – six kids in six classes? Again, as I wrote in Monday’s Trib article, just as an example, New Jersey (Rutgers) and Connecticut (UConn) are the only “name” state schools in 2015 have not attracted one of the top-10 Rivals prospects. (In some states, it wasn’t THE state school, but even in some states, I used 2-3 schools, such as Florida/Florida State/Miami, for example – and they all got at least one top-10 kid).
This is all a long way of saying that Franklin and his staff emphasizing the home state doesn’t sound very revolutionary. But the facts show that it’s a different strategy than what PSU has used as a recipe in the past (or perhaps they are just much, much better at executing it than the staffs of Paterno and Bill O’Brien were).
All of a sudden, in one year Penn State went from the equivalent of Rutgers or UConn to its home state kids to being THE choice for almost all of them. According to the data on Rivals.com, Jordan Whitehead is the lone Pennsylvania senior who received a scholarship offer from Penn State who elected to go elsewhere. Yes, Whitehead is Rivals.com’s No. 1 PA senior and yes PSU wanted him badly, but the 91 percent (10-for-11) “success” rate in getting who they wanted to get in-state is as astounding as the 25 percent rate of getting top-10 PA kids PSU had lugged over a span of dozen years into the Franklin era.
I’ll insert my usual disclaimer here that recruiting rankings are what they are. They’re imperfect. They’re bound to overrate some and underrate others. They don’t necessarily correlate to on-field wins-and-losses. Heck, even the four major sites themselves can’t agree on much. Look at each’s ranking of the top PA seniors: They all have different No. 1’s.
- Rivals is Whitehead (Pitt)
- Scout is John Reid (PSU)
- 247Sports is Saquon Barkley (PSU)
- ESPN is Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt)
So, by that alone, you see how silly it is to put too much stock in it.
That said, many people do. (Way too much, in my opinion, but that’s a digression for another time). And that’s all we have to evaluate things on now – and I’ll leave it to the professionals at the industry-leading websites that do this kind of stuff for a living.
Anyway, here are some packages of data that did not make it into the print edition today (for space reasons) that I had compiled to accompany today’s story.
Penn State’s 2015 verbal commitments who are from Pennsylvania high schools
Position/Name/hometown In-state Rivals.com rank
RB Saquan Barkey, Whitehall 2
CB John Reid, Philadelphia 3
OL Ryan Bates, Warminster 4
DE Ryan Buccholz, Malvern 5
OT Sterling Jenkins, Baldwin 8
DE Shareef Miller, Philadelphia 9
RB Andre Robinson, Harrisburg 10
TE Nick Bowers, Kittanning 18
LB Jake Cooper, Warminster 19
S JohnPetrishen, Central Catholic 21
Penn State superlatives in recruiting sites’ Pennsylvania 2015 class rankings:
(x) Rivals.com: Four of the top five, seven of the top 10,
(x) Scout.com: Top three, seven of the top 10
(x) ESPN: Four of the top six
(x) 247Sports.com: Top four, seven of the top nine
Rivals.com rankings for recent Penn State recruiting classes
Year recruits 4-star recruits* PA top-10 recruits B1G rank national rank
2004 25 4 5 4 29
2005 19 4 2 4 19
2006 24 15 4 1 6
2007 21 8 4 4 24
2008 14 4 1 6 43
2009 27 7 1 4 24
2010 20 12 6 1 12
2011 16 5 2 5 35
2012 19 2 1 7 51
2013 17 4 1 6 43
2014 25 6 0 3 24
2015 22 11 7 2 13
*-Includes six five-star prospects (QB Christian Hackenberg, 2013; DB A.J. Wallace, 2006; DB Justin King and WR Derrick Williams, 2005; QB Anthony Morelli and LB Dan Connor, 2004)
PENN STATE Class of 2015
Rivals.com ranking: 12
Notable verbal commitments: John Reid (5-10, 175), CB: One of the best pure athletes in the state, the Philadelphia native has potential to play immediately; Juwan Johnson (6-4, 205), WR: Johnson teams with the 6-4, 207-pound Irvin Charles to give PSU two big, athletic new receivers from New Jersey; Paris Palmer (6-8, 284), OT: PSU’s lone junior-college transfer part of a strong offensive line group in this class.
What they’re saying: “You’re recruiting with the Penn State education, the fan support, the tradition – and now you have an energetic staff out there recruiting. This is where Penn State recruiting should be.” – Brian Dohn, Scout.com national recruiting analyst
Enjoy signing day. I’ll be in State College (technically, University Park) providing coverage.