Pitt's recruiting class of 2014 not defined by stars
Pitt fans are understandably anxious about the first wave of pledges from the Class of 2014.
First, they may have been overwhelmed and a bit confused when Pitt started with one commitment June 13 and had a flood of 11 more in the next eight days, an unprecedented haul in recent years.
“Pitt's the only program that has really had a spree like that this summer,” said Mike Farrell, recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
Next, six of Pitt's 12 verbal commitments — non-binding until players sign letters of intent in February — are rated 2-star prospects on a scale of 5 by Rivals.com. Some players have chosen Pitt over Mid-American Conference and Ivy League schools while getting little interest from BCS programs.
Farrell, who has been following recruiting for nearly two decades, said people shouldn't pass judgment too hastily.
“Fans get upset, but you have to trust in the coaching staff,” he said. “Those guys evaluate (players) very closely (at on-campus camps). There is something to be said for that.
“I'm never going to say, ‘Why did they take that kid?' as long as they are evaluating kids properly. Wisconsin turned into a Big Ten power by doing it this way. The Wisconsin model is the way Pitt is doing things now.
“They got kids who were a fit to their system, and they evaluated them very, very well. Wisconsin never was in the top 25 (in recruiting rankings).”
Wisconsin played in the past three Rose Bowls, two with Pitt coach Paul Chryst as offensive coordinator.
Farrell said Rivals will re-evaluate its rankings in August and November.
“The first film of their senior year may be better than their junior year,” he said.
Farrell said he doesn't expect three-stars to become five-stars, but improvement is not unusual. “Twos can go to fours and I've seen a ton of twos go to threes,” he said.
Several high school coaches said Chryst puts an emphasis on character and academics, along with athletic ability.
For example, Shady Side Academy running back Dennis Briggs ran for only 473 yards on 82 carries last season. His coach, Dave Havern, said Chryst looked deeper.
“There are better football players around,” said Havern, a former Pitt quarterback, “but no better kids around that are good football players. Paul Chryst is getting the kind of kid he needs to get.”
Despite the proliferation of two-stars, Pitt has diversified its recruiting in many ways, both in the players' rankings and where they go to school.
• Not ignoring the smaller schools allowed Pitt to land a commitment from quarterback Adam Bertke, 6-foot-6, 210 pounds, who threw for 2,300 yards and 16 touchdowns at Marion Local High School, which plays in Ohio's smallest classification.
• Pitt's '14 class already has recruits from seven states, including Staunton Riverheads (Va.) offensive lineman Mike Herndon, who chose Pitt over Virginia Tech, an ACC rival.
• Uncommitted three-star targets such as North Allegheny wide receiver Elijah Zeise and Canisius (N.Y.) running back Qadree Ollison have played on state champions in the highest classifications. Ollison and defensive back Jalen Williams of Newburgh (N.Y.), who has committed, are the fifth- and sixth-rated players in New York.
• Washington's Shai McKenzie, the 20th-rated running back in the nation, listed his top five recently, and Florida State and Pitt were 1-2, followed by Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Arkansas.
• In two years, Pitt may have four-stars Mike Grimm of Bethel Park and Adam Bisnowaty of Fox Chapel on its offensive line, along with incoming freshman Dorian Johnson of Belle Vernon, who started last season as a four and graduated as a five.
There are no guarantees in recruiting. Answers to fans' — and coaches' — questions won't surface for another two or three years. If Pitt is going in the wrong direction, you'll know soon enough.
“It's all subjective,” Farrell said. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”