PITTSBURGH — Pitt has a geography problem when it comes to recruiting. This isn’t really anything new, of course.
Pitt has an area where they’ve had a good deal of historical local recruiting success that’s roughly analogous to Allegheny and Beaver Counties. To stray much beyond those areas, Pitt runs into some pretty stiff competition from Penn State to the east and Ohio State to the west.
That’s not to say that Pitt won’t compete in those places, but it’s a lot harder to do business working outside the Panthers’ home turf. Unfortunately, Pitt’s home turf isn’t always a reliable source of talent.
The WPIAL schools that Pitt most frequently draws from have just two four-star players in the Class of 2018, with Pine-Richland quarterback Phil Jurkovec committed to Notre Dame and Pitt one of the dozens of schools still after Aliquippa safety Kwantel Raines.
There’s only 13 3-star players as well, according to 247 Sports, certainly not enough to support Pitt alone, and many of them have of course committed elsewhere.
It’s clear that Pitt needs other sources of talent, and the Panthers have done a good job under this regime in mining talent out of other places at times. In particular, New Jersey and Florida have been kind to the Panthers.
In the last three classes, Pitt has gotten Phil Campbell, Maurice Ffrench, Elias Reynolds, Carter Warren, Kenny Pickett, Owen Drexel, Matt Alaimo and Nick Patti from the Garden State.
From Florida, the Panthers have landed Marquis Williams, A.J. Davis, Damarri Mathis, Jerry Drake, Deslin Alexandre, Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, Michael Smith, Keyshon Camp, Henry Miller and Rashad Weaver.
Those are great potential sources of talent for the Panthers and all signs point to them remaining viable for quite some time.
One area that’s not worked out as well for Pitt is Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. That’s not to say that the Panthers haven’t had some big wins in that region. They have. Chase Pine, Patrick Jones, Jaylen Twyman and John Morgan have all been big wins out of that area for the Panthers.
They’ve also had some high-profile losses, mostly to Virginia Tech. The Hokies notably pulled three edge rushers out of the Panthers’ sights late in the 2017 cycle and it seems like they’re pulling ahead for running back Coleton Beck this year.
In Frank Beamer’s last three seasons, the Hokies had eight, seven and seven wins. In that same timeframe, Pitt won six and seven games under Paul Chryst and eight under Narduzzi in 2015.
But in Justin Fuente’s first year, Virginia Tech in 2016, the Hokies went 10-4, won the ACC Coastal division, beat Arkansas in the Belk Bowl and finished the year ranked No. 19. This year, they’re 4-0 with a win over West Virginia and are ranked No. 12 heading into Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 Clemson.
It’s not necessarily surprising that the Hokies have been able to hold serve in their home turf, given their recent amount of success. Over most of this decade, none of the schools in that area — Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech — had established much in the way of regional dominance over recruiting.
But if Virginia Tech is going to return to national prominence and regional dominance under Fuente — and that seems likely right now — it’s one more roadblock on the recruiting map for the Panthers.