Penn State Tightens Grip on Keystone State Recruiting, While Pitt Slips

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Penn State Tightens Grip on Keystone State Recruiting, While Pitt Slips
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Penn State got two great football commitments this week. The first was longtime Pitt fan Miles Dieffenbach (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Scout; ☆ ☆ ☆ Rivals), who contacted PSU on Tuesday. The second was western PA prospect Tom Ricketts (☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ Scout; NR Rivals).

The best part of all this for Penn State fans? Pitt fans are fuming.

Remember all that talk about Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt building a wall around western Pennsylvania, not allowing any recruits to escape? My, how four years can change a landscape.

Instead of trying to analyze the finer aspects of recent Penn State recruiting (not yet, at least), I think a quick study on how we got here is in order. It's really an interesting timeline, considering where Penn State and Pitt were respectively in the summer of 2005, as Wannstedt took over, claiming western PA was his domain.

Pittsburgh was coming off (as undeserved as it was) a Fiesta Bowl berth and a conference title. The Panthers hadn't had a losing season since 1999, making a name for themselves as a very good passing team under Walt Harris.

While it wasn't piling up wins like Oklahoma or Miami, Pitt football gained a decent level of respectability during the first half of this decade.

Penn State wasn't quite so prosperous. Beginning with the new millennium (and a 12-0 loss to Pitt), the Lions went on to a dreadful 28-33 record from 2000-2004.

Calls for Joe Paterno to retire, claims that Penn State would never regain its elite status, and low recruiting confidence were rampant. Going into 2005, all anyone wanted was a record better than .500.

Then something happened. Pitt grew tired of "only" winning eight or nine games each year and probably saw an opportunity to solidify itself as the premier Pennsylvania football program.

Meanwhile, Penn State grew up, realizing that resting on your laurels, as the program did in the late 1990s, wouldn't win games or recruits.

The Panthers became greedy, while the Lions were humbled.

The firing of Harris was probably the worst head coaching move during the 2004-05 offseason. Numbers don't lie. Once Wannstedt came aboard, Pitt never won more than six games until 2008 and lost to teams like Ohio University, Navy, and Bowling Green.

Toss in an 0-4 record against Rutgers, and a downright pathetic 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the 2009 Sun Bowl, and the Wannstedt era could be viewed as beyond disappointing.

That same offseason, Paterno told reporters that if he didn't start winning some games, he needed to get his ass out of Dodge.

Luckily for Paterno, with a little help from a fantastic recruiting class, the Lions came within one second of playing for the national championship, finishing 2005 with an 11-1 record, a Big Ten championship, and an Orange Bowl win.

The spark returned to Happy Valley, primarily because of the lessons learned from 2000-04.

The last four years, Penn State and Pitt both sharply reversed course, for good and bad. No one could have guessed these two programs would be in the positions they are today, eerily reminiscent of past decades when Pitt was the perennial "little brother."

Could Pitt turn things around? Sure. They made great strides last season. But if 2009 is a reversion to anything like Wannstedt's first three years on the job, it could be a hot time for "The 'Stache" on Heinz Field.

What about Penn State? Is a down season inevitable? That depends on what is considered "down." Of course, 2009 won't be an accurate gauge of where the program is right now. A high school team could win three or four games against this schedule.

But is a season with as few as nine or 10 wins possible? I think so. It just doesn't seem logical to forecast anything but continued success for Penn State the next few years.

Then again, isn't that what we all said about Pitt not long ago?

For more on the Dieffenbach and Ricketts commitments, and Pitt's sufferings, click here, here, here (love the South Park ref), or here.

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