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Rivals ranks latest Pitt football recruiting class only 50th

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NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Pittsburgh vs Stanford Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt’s recruiting class for 2019 was ‘formally’ announced this week with the Panthers signing 20 players for this coming football season. In all, there are 19 ‘recruits’ and a 20th player, offensive line transfer Nolan Ulizio, who comes to Pitt by way of Michigan.

If you were looking for some of that late class magic that head coach Pat Narduzzi had previously been able to put together near National Signing Day in the past, you were surely disappointed. One of the lone top targets Pitt had late in the game was cornerback M.J. Devonshire, who decided on Kentucky instead.

Add it all up and it’s a pretty lackluster class in terms of stars. The Panthers landed only one four-star player according to Rivals in quarterback Davis Beville. When you consider other schools are landing more than five or even ten of those players, you don’t need me to tell you that that’s kind of weak. If Beville pans out and solves the quarterback problem the team has had for the past two seasons, that would give the class the boost it needs. But in the meantime, the rankings don’t favor the class even in the slightest.

Rivals places Pitt’s class 50th in the nation. While that may not sound terrible, it also ranks towards the bottom of the P5 programs Pitt is mostly competing against. From a ranking standpoint, this is the worst class Pitt has had since 2015 when they checked in at No. 65 according to Rivals. Also notable is that it’s a drop of 11 spots from the No. 39 ranking they held after the early signing period.

Those rankings, of course, always need to come with a caveat. For example, that 65th ranked class included Jordan Whitehead and Quadree Henderson, and both played in the NFL last year. The class also included running back Darrin Hall, who could be in the NFL next season, as well as several key starters for the team, including cornerback Dane Jackson and linebacker Saleem Brightwell. A low ranking isn’t always indicative of a player’s ability.

That said, my message from the early signing day still holds true. The recruiting has to get better and despite some success in reaching the ACC title game this season, the Panthers have made little real ground on that front since Narduzzi came to town, with classes not generally near the Top 25. Only one year, 2016, was Pitt even near the Top 25 as they checked with the No. 29 Rivals class.

40th. 50th. I’m not sure how much of a difference is there. A couple kids? I’m not sure there’s a ton of separation there. But with anything else, kids pay attention to rankings. And when you start drifting so far away out of the Top 25 classes, it can’t be a good thing. Several of Pitt’s three-star players will develop into very good players ... but so will three-star players at other schools that managed to land higher-ranked guys.

Much is being made of Narduzzi’s apparent drift away from recruiting locally. But in reality, Pitt has taken more of a national approach for several years. It’s not only about getting away from western PA, either. In general, Pitt hasn’t taken much from the entire state of Pennsylvania lately. To be fair, Pitt has tried. Unfortunately, that effort has been rewarded with little tangible success.

I’m okay with that. I’ve always been okay with that, frankly. Where it causes problems, however, is when it comes to landing the top level kids.

Pitt will almost always get at least a cursory glance from the best local players just because the thrill of playing near home will be attractive. How much of them will give Pitt serious consideration is up for debate but as I’ve said before, if Pitt is going to land a five-star talent, it’s usually going to be one from their own backyard. So for that reason alone, you’ve got to cultivate relationships, pursue local kids, and be relevant.

Pitt landed only one kid from the WPIAL this year and while I’m not suggesting they don’t care about finding local talent, that should be considered an eyebrow raiser. Go to Florida and get kids. Go further into the midwest. Go wherever. But also be aware that the fewer local kids you take, Pitt will be seen as less of a viable option for not only the big time players here, but the next tier guys as well.

If Pitt is going to compete with classes like this, they’re asking quite a lot. First, they’re anticipating that their three-star guys will be better than the three-star guys at other schools. But they also have to hope that the four-star kids they’ve missed on don’t pan out, either. It’s the ultimate treading of water scenario, really. Pitt can get to seven or eight wins with classes like this but expecting them to break through and get to nine or ten without better talent or, at the very least, a significant upgrade at quarterback isn’t as unrealistic.

Again, maybe they’ve got that upgrade with Beville. Or maybe Pickett or someone else develops. But it becomes very difficult to win games with low production at quarterback and without freak athletes at other positions.

Looking ahead, Pitt is also off to its usual slow start for 2020 as well. While nearly 40 schools have at least two recruits for next year’s class, the Panthers have yet to land a commitment. Some even have significantly more than that. Alabama, for example, already has ten kids lined up. LSU and Miami have nine. Plenty of others have five or more. And while Pitt shouldn’t be expected to reasonably compete with the likes of Bama in terms of recruiting, Penn State, a school they do regularly cite as competition, has four. Penn State has beaten Pitt like a drum on the recruiting trail and it’s difficult not to take notice of that.

Slow starts are fine as long as you end up where you need to be in terms of recruiting. But lately, the Panthers haven’t been doing that.

Simply put, the program has to find a way to recruit better.

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