Much is talked about with the “star” rankings given high school recruits by the for-profit recruiting sites, like Rivals.com and Scouts, and what that means later on in college. I don’t believe anyone in their right mind wouldn’t want a roster full of 4* and 5* players… but then we’d be Alabama and that wouldn’t be any fun. All they do is win all the time.
Well, we ain’t Alabama, OSU or even Penn State when it comes to recruiting. So Pitt has a lot less of the blue-chip recruits then some schools do. I have written in the past that it isn’t recruiting those highly ranked players as it is to keep them on the roster for a full four years of eligibility. Pitt has a real problem with that.
Just the other day Chris Peak of Rivals posted up a great article as he re-ranked Pitt’s 2013 recruiting class. That was Paul Chryst’s first class and those kid are, or would be, rsJR or SRs this upcoming season. What jumps out is 10 some of the best talent Pitt has seen in years and 2) the fact that almost half the class didn’t make it onto the field or finish a four-year stint.
Pitt has a poor track record of getting highly ranked kids and then getting the most out of them. It is much like the chicken and the egg conundrum; are the recruits too highly ranked or were their coaching staffs not up to getting the best out of them?
Then of course there is the attitudinal side of things with recruits where for various reasons a player just can’t cut the mustard at this level and that doesn’t happen only on the athletics side. Many can’t adjust to the harder academics or being away from home and some just can’t adjust to a lifestyle they weren’t accustom to prior to arriving at Pitt.
Some recruits come from a place where they were put on a pedestal and their younger transgressions were either overlooked or even allowed based on their status as football players. Those kids have the hardest times re-adjusting to the fact that they are now one of many and actually do have to do what others tell them to do.
Let’s take a look at some of the past recruiting classes and see what the Top 10 ranked kids did while here at Pitt. First lets look at two Dave Wannstedt classes with the 2007 and 2008 classes as ranked by Rivals.com:
First off we see six 4* players which is an excellent haul for us historically and led us to a #26th national ranking for that class.
Unfortunately we also see that five of those ten players didn’t last four years. Now – one of those was because he did so well and thus LeSean McCoy, a true star RB, declared early. But 4* guys Tony Tucker and Tommie Duhart did little or nothing and took off early… as did Maurice Williams and Dan Matha.
In that class I believe McCoy had a real shot to become an All-American player for Pitt. His first two years were outstanding and he looked to just get better as he matured. He left for greener pastures though.
Here we see that this class was also highly rated and came in ranked 28th nationally. With one 5* and five 4* players in a total of 19 recruits that shows real effective recruit targeting. So what did those Top Five kids do for us?
This class stuck around more than most do with only two of the 10 leaving early – Cruz was dismissed by Todd Graham and Chris Burns looked for greener pastures at a lower level of play. Most of them became starters and I’d say that Baldwin and Holley played to their star level – maybe Nix also but since he went on a personnel work strike and refused to play ball I can’t give him all that much credit.
As far as all-American’s go Jon Baldwin was a pre-season All-American pick by some but a rather mediocre JR year dashed those hopes – so he then declared a year early and was drafted. Here is what he did for us and you can see the drop-off from his SO to JR years:
His being a late 1st round pick was due to his ‘measurables” and certainly not his attitude. The day he downfield blocks for another ball carrier will be the first time he does it. However had he stayed and gotten back to his 2009 form he may well have made the All-American listing.
Let’s jump to 2011 with another coach’s recruiting class and this one is very interesting especially coming off the firing of Dave Wannstedt and the blow up of the 2011 class that he had gathered.
Here is a class that stumbled its way to being trivia answers for future Pitt fans. Only two 4* kids out of 21 recruits gave us a 58th ranked class. We did have some good ones in there – Mosley Smith could be considered to have played at a 4* level (if you are being generous) but no one will say Grigsby did.
Six out of those 10 players either bagged out early or were dismissed from the team by the next HC Paul Chryst. 14 of the total 21 recruits were gone by their JR years. I see no possible All-Americans among all 21 of them, do you?
Now comes a pretty amazing bit of bad luck on Pitt’s part as Chryst’s first class – 2012 – was a pretty good one considering all the turmoil and bad press Pitt had gotten over the previous two years with Wannstedt’s firing and Graham’s slithering off campus.
That class had a total of 16 recruits and was ranked a low 47th of the D1 schools. You have to look at that first four players and think they would have been an excellent nucleus to build a team around. At least on paper.
What happened in real life was a lot different as the 4*s didn’t make the grade all the way around; Shell was kicked off the team for cause, Rippy was asked to leave, but Voytik and Bisnowaty had decent careers while at Pitt. Bisnowaty especially as he was All-ACC and a three-time Academic All-American pick. Personally I think he played at All-American level last season but no one in the decision-making line felt the same way.
Voytik we know left after his JR when he lost the starting QB job to Nate Peterman who was a transfer in rather than a recruit. Five of the top 10 listed never saw a full four years here and nine of 16 total didn’t either. That is a lot of recruits to lose the services of.
While we didn’t have any All-Americans in this class you have to wonder what would have happened with Shell if his was head screwed on correctly and he stayed at Pitt. Had he done that James Conner may well have been kept at DE for his career as he arrived a year later than Shell did. best for us that it worked out the way it did though.
So – onward to Peak’s look at the 2013 class in all its glory. This was his last season at pitt and one class that has shown how well it can play ball – especially on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage. here is the Top 10 as ranked;
This class consisted of 27 recruits and was ranked a good 37th nationally. From the list above we had Reese, Moody, MacLean and Chapman failed to finish four years and Chapman failed to reach the fall camp. Ten of the total 27 weren’t on the 2016 roster.
As you can see we had an All-American in OL Dorian Johnson last season and it isn’t a stretch to say that if Boyd returned and , like Baldwin, played to his SO season’s level he might have been awarded All-American Status.
Then we have James Conner.
I’ll say that had he returned for his SR year he’d have been healthy enough to pick up a productive year like he had in 2014. So I’ll hand him All-American status on a silver platter because he did this before he left Pitt:
James Conner Superlatives
ACC All-Time Touchdowns Leader (56)
ACC All-Time Rushing TDs Leader (52)
2016 First Team All-ACC
2016 Disney Sports Spirit Award
2016 FWAA Courage Award
2016 Brian Piccolo Award
2016 Maxwell Club Thomas Brookshier Spirit Award
2015 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team
2014 First Team All-American (AFCA)
2014 ACC Player of the Year
2014 First Team All-ACC
2nd All-Time at Pitt in Rush Yards (3,733)
2nd All-Time at Pitt in Touchdowns (56)
2nd All-Time at Pitt in Rush TDs (52)
3rd All-Time at Pitt in Points Scored (338)
That’s a hell of a resume’.
Of course we have had other players who would have, in my opinion, reached AA status; Class of ’09’s RB Dion Lewis who, in his FR year, stunned the world with 1799 yards and 17 TDs rushing. That earned him 2nd string All-American in some polls but he outright won national Freshman of the Year honors. He left after his 2nd year and followed McCoy and Fitzgerald in taking advantage of the NCAA rule that allows players who attended a year of prep school after high school to leave after two years.
Superstar Aaron Donald spent his full four years at Pitt making him unique in that Pitt players who are good enough to get drafted in any round tend to take off as soon as they can. He gained unanimous 1st team All-American honors in his SR year and won every other award under the sun also.
Let’s keep an eye on WR/RB/Everything Quadree Henderson’s next two seasons -He’s been made an All-American already and we could well have another Heisman Trophy winner at Pitt if he’s properly advertised nationally.
It is easy to sit back and wonder what would have happened if… isn’t it? But the fact is that our recruiting classes had some real gems in them and about 40-50% of those never made it through a ‘normal’ four year career at Pitt. I don’t think Pitt is a whole lot different from other schools in this regard; but I really don’t care about them.
However I do care about Pitt and would like to be able to look at a recruiting class from top to bottom and feel like who we get in any given year is actually going to play ball for us, but in reality that just isn’t always the case.