There was a time, years ago, when Ohio State and Penn State, two of the nation’s premier football powerhouses, went head-to-head for a number of the region’s football recruits. However, thanks to the ridiculous success of Urban Meyer’s Ohio State football program on the field — and perhaps in part to Penn State’s inability to escape the shadows of NCAA sanctions levied in 2012 — coaches from the two schools haven’t crossed paths in living rooms nearly as often in the past five years.
Though the two schools have seen each with less regularity, Meyer’s first recruiting class at Ohio State — which ranked No. 5 nationally despite only three months to build it — may not have been able to pick up the momentum it did without the catastrophe that was happening simultaneously in State College. While the Nittany Lions were reeling, Ohio State was perusing the Penn State commitment list — and top target list — and stealing from it.
The Buckeyes swooped in at the end of the 2012 cycle — as they announced the hiring of Meyer — and stole 5-star defensive end Noah Spence (Harrisburg, Pa.), who was considered major Penn State lean. They didn’t stop there, though. Ohio State secured two 4-star prospects that were previously committed to Penn State — Illinois defensive tackle Tommy Schutt and Colorado offensive lineman Joey O’Connor — from the reeling Nittany Lions program.
In 2013, as Ohio State began its ascension under Meyer, and Penn State under Bill O’Brien was trying to adjust to sanction life, the head-to-head matchups dwindled because not many high-end prospects were going to choose the situation in State College over what was happening in Columbus. But one in the 2013 recruiting class did: Cedar Cliff (Camp Hill, Pa.) 4-star tight end Adam Breneman.
Breneman was the country’s second-ranked tight end in 2013 and was very high on the Buckeyes’ list but committed to Penn State early (March 2012) in his recruiting process. Ohio State would land a verbal from Riverside, Calif., 4-star tight end Marcus Baugh just about a month later.
Breneman, whose primary recruiter at Penn State was current Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., was a freshman All-American in 2013 at Penn State, but missed the majority of the 2014 and 2015 seasons with knee injuries. He is now a redshirt junior at the University of Massachusetts, where he transferred in August just eight months after announcing his football career was over because of the aforementioned knee issues.
In seven games for the Minutemen in 2016, Breneman has recorded 35 receptions – the second-most of any tight in the country – for 390 yards and two touchdowns. He was the only real win for Penn State over Urban Meyer and Ohio State on the recruiting trail for O’Brien, who left Penn State after two seasons, opting for the greener pastures of the NFL.
Scrambling once more, the Nittany Lions made the decision to hire a young, charismatic head coach from the SEC — Vanderbilt’s James Franklin — with the hope that he’d be able to sell a bright, black-shoed future. Almost instantly, the recruiting friction between Ohio State and Penn State re-emerged.
Once more, it was a tight end that spurned the Buckeyes for the Nittany Lions, though this time a New Jersey native rather than a Pennsylvania one: Manahawkin’s Mike Gesicki. The country’s sixth-ranked tight end picked Penn State and Franklin over Meyer and the Buckeyes in October 2013, just three weeks after taking an official visit to Columbus.
Gesicki was one of three 2014 Nittany Lions’ signees that had an offer from Ohio State, joining wide receivers Sa’eed Blacknall and Chris Godwin out of New Jersey and Delaware, respectively. That recruiting cycle, the Buckeyes signed no tight ends, but they did sign five eventual wide receivers: Curtis Samuel, Johnnie Dixon, Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin and Noah Brown.
Franklin’s second full class at Penn State in 2015 was his best recruiting job against Ohio State, but the key player — New Jersey 4-star quarterback Brandon Wimbush — didn’t end up at either school. The eventual Notre Dame signee committed to Penn State over the Buckeyes when Franklin was able to convince him that Ohio State’s pursuit of Torrance Gibson – now a wide receiver – meant that Urban Meyer and Tom Herman ultimately preferred Gibson to Wimbush, which was not the case.
Franklin also landed Pittsburgh offensive lineman Sterling Jenkins, a 4-star prospect, running back Andre Robinson, and 4-star defensive back Garrett Taylor out of Virginia, all of whom had Ohio State offers. Robinson and Taylor were not heavily recruited by the Buckeyes, but Jenkins was a played Meyer, Ed Warinner and the rest of the coaching staff in Columbus coveted.
As has been the case in recent years, with the addition of Franklin at Penn State and now Pat Narduzzi at Pitt, recruiting the Keystone State has become harder and harder for the Buckeyes.
The battles between Ohio State and Penn State — provided Franklin can keep his job as mediocrity continues to rule the day on the field for the Lions — are going to heat up again. Just this weekend alone, a number of top Buckeyes targets will visit Happy Valley and watch as the two sides clash on the field.
Looking at the names expected in State College this weekend and there’s no doubt that Penn State’s third-year coach realizes he has an opportunity to showcase his program – and his program’s needs – against what should an overmatched (talent-wise) Ohio State team.
While the Buckeyes continue to grow nationally, Franklin is setting his sights once more on the region’s best players and bringing in players that may sit on the periphery of Urban Meyer’s plans but have long held a Buckeyes offer. Who will be at Penn State this weekend with an Ohio State scholarship offer already on the table or on the way?
- 2017 • WR • Jaylen Harris • Cleveland Heights • Ohio
- 2017 • DB • Lamont Wade • Clairton • Pennsylvania
- 2017 • DT • Corey Bolds • Paramus Catholic • New Jersey
- 2018 • DE • Micah Parsons • Harrisburg • Pennsylvania • Committed to Penn State
- 2018 • RB • Ricky Slade • CD Hylton • Virginia
- 2018 • WR • Shaquon Anderson-Butts • Harrisburg • Pennsylvania
- 2018 • TE • Jeremy Ruckert • Lindenhurst • New York
- 2018 • OL • Juice Scruggs • Erie Cathedral Prep • Pennsylvania
- 2018 • OL • Blaine Scott • Portsmouth East • Ohio
- 2018 • DT • Aeneas Hawkins • Archbishop Moeller • Ohio
- 2018 • DE • Tyreke Smith • Cleveland Heights • Ohio
- 2018 • DE • Alex Reigelsperger • Huber Heights Wayne • Ohio
- 2018 • DE • Dorian Hardy • St. Joseph Regional • New Jersey
- 2018 • LB • Dallas Gant • Toledo St. John’s • Ohio
- 2018 • DB • Isheem Young • Imhotep Institute • Pennsylvania
- 2018 • DB • Marcus Hooker • New Castle • Pennsylvania
Could a Penn State win revitalize their chances of competing with Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes in living rooms? We’ll see, but just being in the game for these names is a major first step back into the limelight for the Nittany Lions.