James Franklin set a nice goal for himself in his introductory press conference when he said that he and his staff were going to Dominate the State. In the room in that moment, I truly believed that they would (with how much he commands the respect of the room while speaking, it was difficult not to). However, once I stepped back and digested what was said, I became slightly less enchanted with the idea. Sure, players from Pennsylvania will always flock to Penn State at first, but it seemed that over the last few years the interest in actually attending the university had begun to wane.
Of course, this year represents a stark change from the past few. Franklin currently holds verbal commitments from five of the top ten in Pennsylvania (OT Sterling Jenkins, RB Andre Robinson, OL Ryan Bates, LB Jake Cooper, and RB Saquon Barkley) while CB John Reid, CB Jordan Whitehead, DE Shareef Miller, and ATH Josh Adams all have high interest in Penn State as well.
I set out to discover whatever trends I could in the college decisions for the top 10 players in Pennsylvania from 2004-2014 (although there were only eight top players listed for 2007). All data was collected using the 247Composite rankings, which combine all of the major recruiting services to determine the general consensus on each player.
First up, let's look at where the top ten from the past 11 season have ended up.
"Other" represents Iowa (2), Tennessee, Virginia, Cincinnati, Alabama, Syracuse, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, NC State, Purdue, Arizona, and Georgia Tech
So, clearly Penn State is already doing a nice job of keeping that top talent in-commonwealth. Pittsburgh is the only team that truly keeps pace with recruiting Penn State within the Keystone state borders. This is a very positive thing to see for PSU, as being able to take advantage of top talent when it's in your own backyard is key in recruiting. It is absolutely important to branch out into other areas if your school is located far away from traditional recruit-laden states such as Florida, Georgia, Texas, and California, but you need to be able to lock up the guys close to home as well.
Let's narrow it down a bit and see where the top three players in Pennsylvania have gone over the same time span.
Here is where we begin to see the dominance unfold. Not only is Penn State even with Pittsburgh in how many of the top three from each year they have recruited, but the gap between those two, Ohio State, and Michigan is much smaller. The sample size is smaller, which naturally plays a part, but the ratio is also smaller in the end. So while Penn State still does a nice job of keeping the state's truly elite talent, they don't do any better of a job than Pitt does, and Ohio State and Michigan both have shown the ability to reach in to grab top prospects away from Happy Valley.
Let's keep narrowing it down though, and see what else we can find.
Welcome to the graph that will likely give us the most to talk about. Despite taking fewer players out of state overall, and fewer of the top three overall, the Buckeyes have the edge over Penn State in the number of top Pennsylvania prospects over the last 11 years. So while Penn State's top three numbers are higher, they have only hit on the top player in each recruiting cycle twice, to Ohio State's three times. So basically, Jim Tressel/Urban Meyer have out-recruited Joe Paterno/Bill O'Brien/James Franklin (kind of) for the last 11 years when it comes to the top guy in the state. This is something that James Franklin will absolutely need to change for the future if he wants to continue to dominate the state.
Franklin's off to a great start in that regard, by gaining the verbal commitment of Sterling Jenkins and keeping Penn State high on John Reid's list (the two flip flop who is the #1 guy based on the site you're on). Penn State also sits in a great position already for the #1 2016 recruit, OL Michael Menet (Reading, PA). As long as Franklin and the staff continues with the path they are on, this graph will look quite different in a few years.
Let's take a closer look at what Penn State has done.
2010 was some year for Pennsylvania recruiting, huh? Aside from said outlier, Penn State has been on an overall decline in picking up Pennsylvania talent since 2004. Only one of the top ten players in the state has chosen Penn State in each of the last four years (those players being DE Shawn Oakman, WR Eugene Lewis, TE Adam Breneman, and WR Troy Apke). Luckily for Penn State, there aren't any teams whose presence has truly increased since their decline. One disturbing trend for Penn State to take note of, though, is the growing number of players over the last four years who have gone to teams that are outside of the typical list of schools that recruit Pennsylvania. In the last two years alone, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Michigan State have all swiped some of the top talent away from State College.
Obviously, James Franklin is on a mission to change this. If everything pans out the way that it looks like it will right now, Penn State will end the 2015 recruiting cycle with eight or nine of the top ten players in Pennsylvania. The ability of Franklin to sustain that sort of success will be what is truly important. When Paterno had the huge year of recruiting in 2010, it was sandwiched on both sides by at least two years of only taking one of the top ten players in Pennsylvania. So it will be vital for James Franklin to continue to recruit well from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.
As always with recruiting, however, it's important to remember that not everyone develops the way they seem they should. For the best example of this, look no further than that 2010 class. Miles Dieffenbach and Mike Hull both became everything they were projected to be. Kyle Baublitz had proven to be a very solid contributor as well. And then there's Paul Jones, Dakota Royer, Thomas Ricketts, and Alex Kenney (all were four star recruits). You have to start somewhere, though, and there's no harm in going after the guys that clearly have elite talent in high school.
Penn State fans have become very used to seeing walk ons and two star players become regular contributors, which is an awesome thing. But not all low ranked players turn into starters, the same way that not all four and five star recruits become stars. That being said, it's not a coincidence that the highest ranked teams are made by the teams that recruit the highest ranked players. Player development is what it really comes down to in the end, but having the talent to begin with gives the coaches much more to work with.
Watching James Franklin and Penn State recruit the state of Pennsylvania will be one of the focal points of recruiting in the northern part of the country for the foreseeable future. Should Penn State begin to achieve some of the success that they seem to be moving closer and closer to with the pedigree of the incoming recruits, it will be interesting to see if he continues to look at Pennsylvania as the key state to recruit from or if he will use the team's increased national presence to dip more into the south.
Either way, it will be fun to watch.