Pat Narduzzi has been the lightning rod of criticism from a large number of Pitt fans following the disappointing end to the 2019 season which saw the Panthers lose their final two games and end up selected to play in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26 instead of a higher-profile game.
While that criticism and questioning of him might be legitimate, it’s causing something within the Pitt football program to get overlooked.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college program and right now, Narduzzi and his staff are doing that aspect of their job as well as it’s been done at Pitt in a long time.
Pitt has received criticism for its recruiting, in particular, for not being able to attract higher-ranked players. Fans wanted more four-star players and for Pitt to win recruiting battles over bigger-named programs. At least for this year, that’s not a criticism that the Panthers staff will be receiving.
Using the three major recruiting services, 247 Sports, ESPN and Rivals, seven of the 15 players in Pitt’s Class of 2020 are four-star players.
Perhaps more impressively, Pitt is that they’re getting these players spread out at different positions:
Offensive line: Branson Taylor (247)
Running back: Israel Abanikanda (247)
Wide receivers: Jordan Addison (ESPN, 247), Jaylon Barden (247)
Defensive line: Dayon Hayes (Rivals, 247)
Linebacker: Bangally Kamara (247)
Defensive back: Jahvante Royal (ESPN, Rivals)
The thing that has to be encouraging to Narduzzi is not only are they getting higher ranked players but they’re going up against and beating some quality teams to land them.
Here are some of the Power Five schools that at one point offered scholarships to these future Pitt Panthers:
Abanikanda- Boston College, Cal, Duke, Purdue, Rutgers, Syracuse, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Addison- Maryland, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.
Barden- Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
Hayes- Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, Syracuse, Texas A&M, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and West Virginia.
Aydin Henningham- Auburn, Boston College, Florida, Illinois, Iowa State, Kentucky, LSU, Louisville, Minnesota, Mississippi State, Missouri, NC State, Nebraska, Ohio State, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.
Kamara– Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers and Syracuse.
Royal– Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Maryland, Miami, Minnesota, NC State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Syracuse, Tennessee and Virginia.
Taylor- West Virginia, Tennessee, Purdue, Missouri, Minnesota, Michigan State, Maryland, Louisville, Kentucky, Iowa State, Indiana and Syracuse.
Timothy Brown (three-star DT)– Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Illinois, Indiana, Ole Miss, Missouri, Nebraska, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Wake Forest and West Virginia.
AJ Roberts (3-star LB)– Boston College, Duke, LSU, Purdue, Rutgers, Syracuse.
Hunter Sellers (3-star CB)– Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Purdue, Nebraska, Minnesota, Michigan State, Louisville, Indiana, Duke and Boston College.
Solomon Deshields (3-star Athlete)– Auburn, Iowa State, Kentucky, Michigan State, Missouri, Oregon, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Michael Statham (3-star OT)- LSU, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Syracuse and West Virginia.
The point of that was to show doubters that Pitt is winning some recruiting battles to land this talent and we’re already seeing signs that this isn’t a one-time thing.
Pitt has received two early commitments for the Class of 2021 and both are four-star players.
West Mifflin defensive end Nahki Johnson choose Pitt over early offers from Michigan, Mississippi State, Penn State, Virginia Tech and West Virginia while running back Rodney Hammonds selected Pitt over Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, TCU, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
Credit Narduzzi for surrounding himself with some very talented recruiters and the recent additions of Chris Beatty and Archie Collins have taken Pitt recruiting to a new level for their program. If they’re able to keep those two along with Charlie Partridge in place, there’s no reason why this recruiting bonanza shouldn’t continue.
The next step though, and I’m sure Narduzzi realizes this is to be able to have this talent translate into more wins. The Pitt program needs to graduate from seven-win seasons because they’re no longer acceptable, nor should they be.
Considering the talent the staff is bringing in and the fact that starting next year, the non-conference schedule will be more manageable, Pitt needs to start winning nine games and become a program that’s ranked during and after the season.
It hasn’t happened to this point but I believe that this is something that Narduzzi will get done and as I’ve maintained, although I don’t always agree with everything he does, I believe that Narduzzi is a good coach and a good fit for the Pitt program.
Although it hasn’t happened maybe at the pace at which most wanted and expected, Pitt football is headed in the right direction. The facilities are in place, they’re in a good conference, talented assistants are on the staff and higher profile recruits are being brought in.
The next and final step is to take all of these positives and finally turn them into wins on game days. The question is will it start consistently happening in 2020?