Every year at this time there is a great debate over Penn State's recruiting strategy. Some people say we need to protect the homeland and lock up all the talent in the Northeast region. Others say we should take a more national recruiting strategy to get the best talent available. Now that signing day has passed and all the commitments are finalized (with a few exceptions) we can crunch some numbers and pick things apart to evaluate strategy and determine recruiting effectiveness. First we'll take a look at our home state of Pennsylvania. I pulled the top 25 prospects in Pennsylvania this year as graded by Rivals.com. Here are the results.
|Name/Hometown||Position||State Rank||Stars||Committed To||Offers From|
|QB||1||???||Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Oregon|
|WR||2||Pitt||Pitt, USC, Florida, Michigan, Miami|
|OT||3||Pitt||Pitt, Penn State, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Alabama, Illinois|
|LB||4||Florida||Florida, LSU, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Rutgers, Boston College|
|S||5||Florida State||Florida State, Penn State, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, Temple|
|LB||6||Pitt||Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State|
|LB||7||Penn State||Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia, Michigan State, Syracuse, Boston College|
|WR||8||Florida State||Florida State, Penn State, Pitt, Tennessee, West Virginia, Clemson, UNC|
|CB||9||Pitt||Pitt, Penn State, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Stanford, Virginia|
|RB||10||Pitt||Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan|
|TE||12||Illinois||Illinois, Iowa, Pitt, Rutgers, UCLA, GA Tech|
|LB||13||North Carolina||Pitt, Rutgers, VA Tech, Boston College, Clemson, Louisville, Michigan|
|LB||14||Ohio State||Ohio State, Penn State, Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Notre Dame|
|TE||15||Penn State||Penn State, Florida, Louisville, West Virginia, Michigan, Tennessee, Rutgers|
|DT||16||West Virginia||West Virginia, NC State, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland|
|OG||18||Penn State||Penn State, Rutgers, West Virginia, UConn|
|WR||19||Temple||Temple, Pitt, Tennessee, Michigan, West Virginia, Syracuse, UConn|
|OL||20||Illinois||Illinois, Nebraska, Pitt, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wisconsin, Boston College, Duke, GA Tech|
|TE||21||Pitt||Pitt, Rutgers, Virginia, West Virginia, Akron, Florida State, Clemson, Illinois, Nebraska|
|LB||22||Notre Dame||Notre Dame, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Pitt, West Virginia|
|DT||23||Minnesota||Minnesota, Penn State, Syracuse, West Virginia|
|DE||24||Boston College||Boston College, Colorado, GA Tech, Maryland, Minnesota, Pitt, Syracuse, Vanderbilt, West Virginia|
|TE||25||Northwestern||Northwestern, Oklahoma, Pitt, Rutgers, Stanford, Vanderbilt, VA Tech, Boston College, GA Tech, Michigan State|
Now it's important to put this data into context with what Penn State was tasked with accomplishing this year. We had a limited number of scholarships to deal with. The estimate was around 12 through much of the recruiting season and ticked up a bit to 15 or 17 toward the end. So the coaches had to be extremely careful in who they offered to make sure they got the best talent available. There really wasn't any room to take many project kids. We needed stars. The other thing to keep in mind is that our critical needs were quarterback, running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, and linebacker. Moderate needs were defensive backs and defensive linemen.
The first thing that jumps out at you is the dominance shown by Pitt in landing six of the top eleven recruits the state had to offer. Dave Wannstedt has definitely become a recruiting threat for Penn State to deal with. It's not like Penn State didn't go after any of these players as Paterno extended offers to at least seven of them. Of the top ten players Penn State only locked up Mike Yancich, though they are still in the running for Terrelle Pryor.
You can see that once you get outside of the top ten we didn't really offer a lot of kids. But the ones we did offer tended to jump on board. (Note that Mike Farrell, Brandon Ware, and Pete Massaro are not listed above.) So this would suggest that Penn State was only going after the premium talent in the home state and opting to leave Pennsylvania to fill the rest of their needs. This should please the crowd that always criticizes the program for taking local talent that most people consider second rate on a national scale.
We went after the top prospect and only quarterback in the top 25. Lucas Nix was the only elite offensive tackle prospect in the top 25. We never really had a chance with him as his brother goes to Pitt and it was an uphill battle for us to get him away from the Panters for that reason. Tyler Sands hinted once or twice that he was holding off on deciding to see if he got an offer from Penn State. At the time we were still holding out on some of our top targets, so he got impatient and committed to Illinois. After it became apparent our top targets were not going to pan out he was off the table and we had to pursue Corey Lewis and Mike Farrell who were not as highly rated by the recruiting services.
There was a lot of good linebacker talent in Pennsylvania, but we only landed Mike Yancich. None of the other guys really warmed up to us. But then you have to wonder if Penn State didn't really pursue them hard knowing they had a good chance of landing Mike Mauti and Mike Zordich who are both legacy recruits.
It's disappointing to see the wide receiver and running back talent we passed up. I'm not sure why Jonathan Baldwin never got an offer. A.J. Alexander was there for the taking having hinted several times that Penn State was his favorite. But for whatever reason the two parties could never come together. I'm not sure what happened there. We also passed on running backs Cameron Saddler and Chris Burns who both committed to Pitt. You have to wonder if we would have or could have made a push for them had Mike Shaw not committed to us last August.
It would have been nice to get a Nick Moody or Jared Holley as defensive back was a pretty big need for us. That's home state talent we should have locked down. We went after both guys but neither of them showed much interest in us. Moody was high on Florida State from the beginning and never really gave us a look. Holley let his parents handle his entire recruiting process so who knows what factors went into play there.
There weren't any dominating defensive linemen to go after. Pete Massaro and Brandon Ware appear to be projects. One has to gain weight while the other needs to drop some. So this is what people talk about when they criticize the program for lesser talent just because it's local.
So the bottom line question is, how did Penn State do in protecting their home state? The short answer is not so well. The long answer is not so well, but the local talent pool didn't really support what they needed to accomplish. Namely bringing in a top quarterback, two top running backs, two top offensive tackles, and two top wide receivers. They went after the best talent available, but there appeared to be a cutoff line after which they decided they needed to go outside of the state to get what they wanted. This, in my opinion, is a smart strategy, but I'm not sure they pulled it off very well. There were some good wide receivers and running backs we passed on that we probably should have gone after.