I rarely comment on recruiting misses, mostly because the recruiting game isn't one I'm particularly fond of. We cover Pitt here and if a player never makes it to campus, well, there's just not much point in mentioning it. But when a player the caliber of Dorian Johnson passes up the program, it's probably worth at least a mention.
Johnson's loss hurts not so much because of the Penn State factor (to me, him playing in central PA is no worse than if he were playing for Toledo ... see what I did there?), but because of his position. Pitt is in dire need of offensive lineman and getting Johnson could have really helped anchor a line that will need a leader once Chris Jacobson leaves after this season. And not to make things sound even worse, but Johnson would have looked particularly good in a Pitt uniform since he's exactly the type of player Paul Chryst is going to need to run his offense.
Yeah, this one hurts.
Johnson was recently believed to be leaning towards Pitt (even though reports had Pitt virtually neck and neck with Penn State). Still, with so many big-time programs coming after him, it still would have been somewhat of a surprise if he would have become a Panther. Even though Penn State isn't exactly the rock of stability they've been under the Joe Pa era, Johnson made it pretty clear why he chose them:
"I was comfortable with both schools and their coaching staffs," Johnson said. "I like Penn State’s campus and felt like I would get a good education. You’re playing big-time football."
In particular, it's that last sentence that should ring true with Pitt fans.
The Panthers will take a step up eventually when they begin play in the ACC. But it's still not the B1G or really even the Pac 12. But more than that, Pitt hasn't taken that next step to make them a big time program. Tradition? Check. A bit of recent success? Check. But Pitt is simply not at the level of a Penn State right now and has some catching up to do.
Pitt will no doubt continue to get kids that Penn State wants. Some will look at it as a better opportunity to play right away. Others will like the campus better. Still others will see the program as having more potential. But Pitt's lack of success in recent years is also a reason they'll continue to lose kids like Johnson who are on the fence about the program.
If Pitt wants to come out on top in more of these battles with Penn State and the like, they'll stand a much better chance if they can simply win.