Ohio State-Penn State: Coming to a Living Room Near You

By Kyle Rowland on February 4, 2014 at 12:15p
It took James Franklin a matter of minutes to lay out his plan for Penn State football. If a score was being kept, he would have won his introductory press conference 56-0, and that was before he commented on the Nittany Lions’ future recruiting efforts.

“We’re going to dominate the state. We’re going to dominate the region,” Franklin said.

He comes to Penn State after building Vanderbilt into a consistent winner, viewed by many as impossible. In the 21st century, college football coaches receive multimillion-dollar contracts because the pressure to win has never been greater. But they’re also paid as recruiters, and Franklin’s proven to be one of the best.

Armed with a charming, charismatic personality, his vision for Vanderbilt – and now Penn State – quickly won over recruits and their parents. Academics, character building and developing talent are three of the many prongs Franklin uses. It’s how he built a top-25 class at Vanderbilt before leaving. It’s also why five of the Commodores’ 2014 commits followed Franklin to State College.

When he used words like “dominate” in regards to recruiting, it seemed like a shot across the bow at Urban Meyer and Ohio State. It’s no secret the Buckeyes are the Big Ten kingpin with Meyer as the super recruiter who crushes anyone in his path.

Said Franklin: “You can take it as a guy that’s passionate about being at Penn State.”

Unfortunate for Franklin’s sake, he received a double whammy soon after his hiring. Not only did longtime assistant and recruiting ace Larry Johnson decide to leave the program, but he chose to join Meyer and form one of the nation’s most fearsome recruiting duos.

“[Johnson is] one of the best recruiters in the country. Now [Ohio State] has a guy who can help solidify the Eastern Seaboard,” J.C. Shurburtt , national recruiting director for 247Sports, told Eleven Warriors. “That’s huge, especially for a program that’s located within a top-five talent-producing state and is always going to get the lion’s share of the top talent in that state.

“Now you have the No. 1 recruiting school in the Big Ten with the No. 1 recruiter in that area.”

The entire plan Franklin set forth – for Northeast, Midwest and Pennsylvania domination – will be tested by a group of assistant coaches clad in scarlet and gray jackets. It’s a region already trademarked by Meyer and the Buckeyes in three short recruiting cycles. The Ohio State roster includes players from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts – areas Penn State’s program has been built on.

“The Big Ten now has the northeastern fourth of the country,” Shurburtt said. “There are a lot of great football players in New Jersey, Maryland, DC and Northern Virginia. Those are all talent pockets. The Big Ten schools have done well there ever since Penn State joined the league. There are schools that have made a living in Jersey, but I think it’s ratcheted up a notch now.”

The area becomes a bigger target with Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten. In the Class of 2014, the Buckeyes have a New Yorker (Curtis Samuel), a New Jerseyan (Noah Brown) and a Keystone Stater (Malik Hooker).

“If you look at the class for 2015 and 2016 in Maryland and DC, where Larry Johnson has made a living as a recruiter, there’s a lot of high-end talent coming down the pipe,” Shurburtt said. “Ohio State’s already very competitive in that area. But you have to think Coach Johnson will help them make even more inroads.”

Franklin was already a skilled recruiter at Vanderbilt.James Franklin will make life difficult for Ohio State.

The Rivals250 rankings for 2015 lists 11 players hailing from Virginia, seven from New Jersey, four from Pennsylvania, two from Maryland and Washington, D.C., and one from New York. Eight are ranked in the top 100. 

MaxPreps’ 2016 top 50 watch list features six players from New Jersey, two from Maryland and one from Virginia.

It will create intense recruiting battles between Ohio State and Penn State – and their SEC-pedigree head coaches. Don’t forget, Meyer convinced a small Army of Nittany Lion recruits to de-commit when he was hired in late 2011. This cycle saw both universities prying at New Jersey tight end Mike Gesicki, who ultimately chose Penn State over Ohio State. In 2015, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez and quarterback Brandon Wimbush – all from New Jersey – will be targeted heavily by the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions. 

“I’ve worked at a lot of different institutions that tried to compete in recruiting against Penn State University, and it was always an unbelievable challenge because this school has everything that young men are looking for,” Franklin said. “This school has everything that families are looking for. I’m calling all the high school coaches. I’m calling all the people in the state that we need to come together like never before.”

Another future factor in the sweepstakes is the Maryland Terrapins, and, more specifically, Mike Locksley, an assistant coach who’s made a name recruiting the Greater Washington beltway.

“If you’re Penn State, Pennsylvania probably doesn’t rank as highly as Ohio as far as the number of prospects. But it’s still a top 10 to 15 talent-producing state,” Shurburtt said. “Eastern Pennsylvania in particular is going to be good the next couple cycles, and Western Pennsylvania always has good players.”

When Penn State was dealt crippling sanctions prior to the 2012 season, conventional wisdom said the Nittany Lions would go through a down period that could last a decade. Instead, they’ve remained competitive thanks to Bill O’Brien, who proved to be an excellent head coach and adept talent evaluator. He sold recruits on getting a good education, competing in the Big Ten and playing home game in front of 107,000 fans in Beaver Stadium.

Penn State was stripped of up to as many as 20 scholarships per year and given an unprecedented four-year bowl ban. In O’Brien’s two seasons as head coach, he signed the No. 51- and 43rd-ranked class. He coached in the Super Bowl, just ahead of signing day in Year 1, which also coincided with the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal.

The crown jewel of the O’Brien recruiting efforts came last February, when he signed five-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. He went on to be named the Big Ten’s freshman of the year after passing for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

There were three four-star recruits in the 2013 class, placing the Nittany Lions in the top half of the conference when it came to recruiting rankings. Penn State managed a 7-5 record last season with just 61 scholarship players, far less than the maximum of 85 permitted by NCAA rules. But the association eased up last year, announcing the Nittany Lions can have 75 scholarship players next year and 85 by 2016.

“I think any time you have more opportunities to go to a place like Penn State, that’s going to help your recruiting,” O’Brien said in October. “Penn State, in my opinion, is a place where you can balance great academics with championship football. In the future, we’re here to make sure guys get a good education and can play for championships. That’s what we’re trying to build on.”

The Nittany Lions currently have the No. 20 class nationally, second best in the Big Ten behind none other than No. 2 Ohio State. The haul of 25 players includes six four-stars with all but one of the rest being three-stars.

In the very near future, the stars could once again align for Penn State.

“I think we will have the most aggressive recruiting staff in America,” Franklin said. “I love winning. Winning is fun. We’re going to do everything we have to do to have as much success as we possibly can.”


Comments Show All Comments

Boxley's picture

I thought Meatchicken was the no. 2 class this year. Yeah, every time I think of Meatchicken the No.2 thought comes to mind......er um, or elsewhere.
As to having the most aggressive recruiting staff in America, well...........
There is another school just West of them that probably has a better recruiting staff.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

Killer nuts's picture

Urban vs Franklin

My money is on Urban

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Good.  I want Penn State to be a formidable foe/rival.  They have a seat at the big boy table when they get their house back together.
I think it would be very cool, to not just have another bigtime rival...but to ring in the new era by setting up some sort of 3 headed rivalry with PSU and Sparty!  We can set up an intra-divisional B1Geast round robin every year and battle with the big state schools.
Who has Gene Smith's email???

Go1Bucks's picture

Franklin's all talk as he was at Vandy  I still believe PSU will regret his hiring.  Good luck to him against Urban and Co.

Go Bucks!

CC's picture

Take off the scarlet colored glasses.
By what measure was Franklin not awesome at Vandy?
They have tough academic requirements, had nothing in terms of talent when he got there, no history, relatively little money/support (compared to UF, LSU, Bama etc) and they had no talent in the state of Tennessee.
He went 9-4 at Vandy, what else could you possibly ask for?

osubuck57's picture

Franklin is a good coach and recruiter. But let's be honest, he can't tie Urbans' tennis shoes. He may very well lockdown PA, if they win. But regionally and nationally...come on man??


CC's picture

Apparently you are too young to remember when PSU played for national titles every 3 or 4 years.  With the right guy at PSU it could happen again.

Jhesse17's picture

And so are the players Franklin is recruiting.

Scarlet_Lutefisk's picture

Apparently you are too young to remember when PSU played for national titles every 3 or 4 years.  With the right guy at PSU it could happen again.

Ah yes...when PSU played a schedule of east coast tomato cans & hired family members of players as refs.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

2014 is when PSU's scholarship limits will really start to show their cumulative effects on the program. For the next two seasons, the Buckeyes must destroy PSU on the field - no mercy whatsoever - which will make Franklin's uphill climb that much tougher.
No mater how talented and passionate Franklin is - as a coach and as a salesman in living rooms - he can defy gravity only so much.

CC's picture

Agreed but by 2016 they will be back to a full roster.  If he remains there they will be a threat.  My bet is that they beat OSU 1 of 3 years while Franklin is there.

NitroBuck's picture

True that PSU will be back to a full 85 scholarship roster in 2016, but it will likely be highly overloaded with underclassmen.  That said, look out for the Nits in 2018.  No guarantees that Franklin will still be there then.

Ferio.  Tego.

Nick_Satan's picture

As I have stated many times anything that helps the BIG and the national perception is fine by me. By all means I hope Franklin does a good job at PSU it can only help now with the playoffs and also make kids want to come play in the BIG and not just settle for playing here.

MarkC's picture

This is a great perspective. Penn State has the history, tradition, stadium, fan base, recruiting base, and resources to be considered a big boy, nationally. For our sake, we need to have a number of those in the Big Ten. These other programs need to improve the competitive profile of the conference to make us more desirable to national recruits.
We should root for every Big Ten team to land every big-time recruit over any other school (ie: Da'Shawn Hand to Alabama). It would be good for the Buckeyes if Michigan State beats Oregon, Wisconsin beats LSU, and Penn State beats UCF. And then I want to beat 'em by 50!
I keep hearing, "If we just go undefeated, we'll be fine." But that is an awfully tight window. Wouldn't you rather the perception of the Big Ten be strong enough that a 1-loss conference champ is still virtually guaranteed to get into the playoff? And a 2-loss team gets strong consideration (so long as that team promises to play "Stanford Football," of course).

Chise47's picture

Yes, (to a 1 loss conf. champ virtually guaranteed a spot in playoffs), & yes. (To a 2 loss team strongly considered because of inter conf. strength of schedule.)
I had a very similar post as this a little while back. Wish Nebraska & Penn.St. could get back to former glory, with Mich.St., Whisky & even the WolverQueens getting back to National Title Contention status.
If not, there will be some real upset folks,(myself included), in Buckeye fandom. Like it or not, Brokeback E$pin drives the national narrative in the sports talk genre'. We seen how even a 20+ game win streak was virtually dismissed this year because of it.
UFM even spoke on the need for the conference as a whole to elevate recruiting, and to some extent assistant coaches salaries. 
The Ohio State University will always be in the hunt, it's the other crabs in the bucket that will be holding us back!!!!

MarkC's picture

You were right then (about the younger demographic's lack of awareness of Penn State's national status) and you are right now (about the need for Big Ten programs to regain/maintain glory, for Ohio State's sake).
Penn State is traditionally a top-10 program, with back to back top-10 finishes as recently 2008 and 2009. They had a rough stretch from 2000-04, but were ranked in the top-10 at some point in every season from 1990-99 against Big Ten competition. The 1982 championship team beat Nebraska, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The 1986 team beat Alabama, Notre Dame, Pitt, and Miami.
We all know about TSUN. They have every resource necessary to be a national program. So does Nebraska, with the exception of proximity to elite recruits. They have always (seriously, going back to Bob Devaney in the 1960's) done very well in California and Texas. Trying to reorient recruiting efforts to already saturated Big Ten grounds is a mistake. I think Bo Pelini is doing a decent job there, but he needs to refocus on areas in which Nebraska has traditionally done very well. The right dynamic coach should be able to pull national recruiting classes to a school with such facilities, fan support, and academic/athletic resources.
I'm not sure why people think Wisconsin is a big deal. They ran up the score on weak defenses and had a fat, annoying coach for a few years, but only had two seasons since 2000 with less than 3 losses. Realistically, Iowa, with the Orange Bowl win in 2009 and 4 top-10 finishes since 2000 are at the same level. Mark Dantonio certainly has Michigan State rolling, with ranked teams in 4 of the past 6 seasons.
For the Big Ten to be what it should be, it needs at least two of the big four in the top-10 each year and the other two ranked in the top-25. At least one of Michigan State, Iowa, and Wisconsin needs to be in the top-15 with one of the others in the top-25. Then it helps when one of the others (Northwestern, Minnesota, Maryland, etc) goes on a run and gets ranked.
That version of the Big Ten gets at least one team in the College Football Playoff every year. For that to happen, these other members of the conference need to start trying harder to compete on a national scale. Some schools are trying hard enough (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Indiana) and some schools (the rest) are not.

fear_the_nut70's picture

Let's not give ESPN too much credit.  Ohio State was sitting # 2 and would have played for a title if we had beaten State.  That idiots like Pollack, May, et. all run their gums with anti-Ohio State nonsense functioned this year only to rile people up, nothing else (and most of us let them).  Personally, I believe creating artificial controversy is their business model (the haters tune in because they love what is being said, and Buckeye fans tune in because they can't help the rubbernecking).  For all it, we sat at no. 2 but didn't take care of business.  That is the bottom line. 

d1145fresh's picture

*Ron Franklin, if I am not mistaken

Seattle Linga's picture

If you have a top ten recruiting class for four straight years than I will be intrigued - until you can prove it on and off the field - it's only talk however we need PSU to be decent year after year to give us more credibility. Go BUCKS

BigKat45's picture

They are our big, huge rivals.

"Well-prepared players make plays. I have yet to be in a game where the most prepared team didn't win.” - Urban

jamesrbrown322's picture

If *ichigan continues to spin its wheels, MSU continues to improve, OSU remains OSU, and Penn State comes back with Franklin, you gotta think that Hoke, and scUM football as a whole may be in trouble for a while.
Honestly, if momentum continues, and that's a big IF, the B1G East top 4 could be as good as the 4 best teams from any division, anywhere.
Let's just hope that the rest of the conference can catch up, for reputation's sake, with OSU's recruiting (but certainly not surpass them), and OSU and MSU's product on the field. I miss the days of the B1G having 5-6 teams in the top 25 consistently, with the conference champs almost always being in the national title discussion.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

Wilkins78's picture

I'm just not buying this guy yet and I'm having trouble believing all the hype.  The whole "turned Vanderbilt into a winner" argument isn't as good as it first might seem.  It's more like, "turned Vanderbilt into a lower-middle-of-the-pack team."  They are in the SEC East, haven't played Bama or LSU in two seasons, didn't play Auburn last year, and only have two wins in the SEC over a team with a winning record (Ole Miss and a 7-5 Georgia 2013, who didn't have their starting runningback, and lost two starters to an injury and a targeting call).  And only 4 total wins over FBS teams with winning records.  While that may be an improvement, I'm not really sold.  Also, I'm not that impressed with flipping Vandy recruits to Penn State.  From a football standpoint, it seems like a no-brainer, especially if you've already committed to that coach once.  Time will tell I guess, and of course I could be wrong, but I'm at a loss with all the hype.  I'd be more worried if O'Brien were still there.  Franklin was also 0-2 against the B1G (NU and UN) and chickened out canceled 2 more.  

sharks's picture

Very good post; I managed to fat finger you two upvotes.

A man got to have a code...

Oakland Buckeye's picture

Best post I have seen on this subject Wilkins. specially WAY more concerned if BOB had stayed - a far more accomplished track record. Franklin has done nothing...

& a shout out to my little girls favorite tv show!

Chise47's picture

Think you could just drop Northwestern, pre-Pat Fitzgerald, into the $EC & have them go 9-4 in three years ? Because that is what Vanderbilt is basically, the Northwestern of the $EC.
There is a reason Pat Fitzgerald & James Franklin are hailed as such good coaches. Those schools have academic standards the mass majority of Div. 1 schools don't have. Hell, you could just about throw the, "Tech/A.M.", schools in that as well.

Wilkins78's picture

I agree that he is likely a good coach.  He's provided some consistency at Vanderbilt in the win column that's never been there before, albeit against teams that lost a lot and only for a whole two years.  So yes he shows a lot of promise.  But to use your own comparison, if Fitzgerald replaces Mark Richt at Georgia, I would have the same skepticism of 30 articles hyping him up and saying, "look out, Saban."  Wouldn't you?

fear_the_nut70's picture

Doesn't Stanford have the same issues in the Pac 12?  Strikes me that their revival was much more impressive than what Vanderbilt accomplished (and please don't feed me the wrote "SEC is the best from top to bottom b.s.")

Chise47's picture

Yes, Stanford does belong in the conversation when academic challenges are brought up.
Reason I left them out was because they at least have had some kind of history with a successful football program. I seem to remember a certain QB who said he would play baseball if drafted by a certain team, then went on to lose 3 SB's, then come back & win 2.
Can you name any point in history where Vandy was at that level, or even close before Franklin arrived ?
And you must have me completely mixed up with someone else if you believe I feed off into that bullshit about from the bottom up when it comes to the $ec. Top heavy like every other conference, with ever 3-4 years someone else has a SR. laden team & makes a run. Simple as that.

Go1Bucks's picture

Thank you Wilkins

Go Bucks!

NitroBuck's picture

Amen to that, Wilkins!  I have been thinking the exact same thing.  Vandy has enjoyed impressive records the past two years, but it was done with smoke and mirrors.  The 'Dores won a lot of games against weak competition, and pretty much lost to every above average team they faced.  They dumped Northwestern and Ohio State from their schedule in favor of the likes of U-Mass and UAB.  Had they not done that, Vandy's 8-4 would quite likely have been 6-6.  Franklin was smart to parlay that into an infinitely better coaching position while he had the chance. 

Ferio.  Tego.

Jack_Q_Football's picture

Let's go Bucks!
70-0 win this season!

Hovenaut's picture

(Best Ricky Bobby voice)
Rivalry engaged.

D-Day0043's picture

I will up vote a Ricky Bobby reference anytime - anywhere. What would be great is if someone could throw a reference about Ricky Bobby and Elvis in the same post. I find their tackiness entertaining.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

DC-town's picture

It would be nice to see the B1G east division be the meat grinder the sec west has been.  Yeah OSU might not walk through it unscathed, but they'll be tested weekly and be a legitimate contender when they do make it through 

'Piss excellence' -RB

gm3jones's picture

Should get better recruits with that also. I imagine better competition would make higher profile players want to be apart of that.

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

BoFuquel's picture

Bring it on Jimmy Frank. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

DC-town's picture

I get the hype argument, but heard people say the same thing about Bill O'Brien...not enough wins over ranked teams, just a middle of the pack team...
Fact is it takes a heck of a coach to make a Vanderbilt a 'decent' team.  The cupboards certainly weren't stocked when they got there and they weren't winning, weren't going to bowls, weren't recruiting well.  Franklin started winning, went bowling and most importantly brought in talent-
I agreed there's a lot of hype there, but he's stepped in and kept the recruiting going.  Franklin and O'Brien have both recruited well enough where if you we're to look at the B1G recruiting classes, penn st isn't one that jumps out looking like they're on a four year bowl ban...and don't kid yourself, that's huge

'Piss excellence' -RB

fear_the_nut70's picture

Franklin's quotes about dominating the region are what you expect a coach to say when hired.  Time will tell.  Whether he dominates or not, here's to hoping he is able to step up PSU's game at a time when the sanctions are being reduced.  There aren't enough good-great programs in the B1G, and at least on paper, PSU has all the assets to quickly become such a program.  No, they are not a rival, but we would benefit from a stronger PSU as we try and win a title or three.  Here's to hoping he sorta hits the mark.

JDunc686's picture

I get frustrated at times when people try to crown the new hot coaches before they do anything.  Hoke has recruited well but hasn't delivered on the field.  I'm not going to say Franklin is going to be terrible for sure but lets see how he does on the field and with recruiting before he gets crowned, that said...