Three of the most pivotal states in a presidential election are Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan because of their populations, industry, and political diversity. Every four years, candidates work tirelessly to secure electoral votes from these three states in pursuit of the magic number of 270.
While football fans from all three states would be quick to back James Franklin, Urban Meyer, or Jim Harbaugh as a political outsider in 2020, the three are redefining the term battleground states in the 2018 recruiting cycle.
Ever since the Big Ten East received its much needed facelift in the wake of the Sandusky sanctions, Meyer and Harbaugh have shared the top-five rankings, national headlines, and the region’s prized recruits. The Nittany Lions’ recent breakout season however interjected Franklin into the fight for local four and five-star recruits.
While Franklin has assembled the No. 2 recruiting class in the country for 2018 so far, the homestretch of the cycle will have him squaring off with Harbaugh and Meyer multiple times before he stands opposite them on the sidelines in consecutive games this October.
Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan are not just battleground states because of their football teams and coaches; a large portion of the available and in-demand recruits hail from these states. At least eight Penn State targets, including top commit and vacillating enigma Micah Parsons, hold offers from both the Buckeyes and Wolverines. Just last weekend, five Penn State targets visited Columbus.
To date, Penn State has two more commits than Ohio State and Michigan combined, but that could change in the coming months.
Players On The Battleground
Considering Ohio State’s dominant popularity throughout the state of Ohio, compared to Pennsylvania and Michigan, where partisanship for home teams is split, the Buckeyes have a leg up on the Nittany Lions and Wolverines in recruiting the football-rich state’s local talent. Penn State has extended offers to 18 players from Ohio State while Michigan has granted 14.
The biggest prospect out of Ohio to look out for is Dallas Gant, the nation’s top linebacker who has all three schools in his top five and will announce May 16.
Two other recruits to watch are Tyreke Smith and Aeneas Hawkins.
Smith visited all three schools during the last two weeks of March and is planning other visits to fellow blue-blood programs Alabama, USC, and Oregon. He doesn’t have any favorites as of now and his tweets don’t give any indication whether he favors one school over any others.
— Tyreke Smith™ (@T_23_baller) April 10, 2017
— Tyreke Smith™ (@T_23_baller) March 29, 2017
— Tyreke Smith™ (@T_23_baller) March 26, 2017
— Tyreke Smith™ (@T_23_baller) April 4, 2017
A decision from Hawkins seemed to be looming in a two-horse race between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions after he visited the two schools in consecutive weeks last month, but he recently pushed his commitment date back. Ohio State may have the upper hand as Hawkins has a strong relationship with Nittany Lion great Larry Johnson’s son, the Buckeyes’ offensive line coach.
Parsons remains the number one target for all three schools, but his name has been linked the most with Ohio State in the rumor mill. While Parsons is at the top of all three coaches’ lists, the Keystone State does offer another highly demanded recruit, who seems to have some connection to Parsons as Brent Pry continues building an already impressive defense.
Safety Isheem Young recently trimmed his list down to twelve schools, with all three programs making the cut. In an interview with Penn Live over the weekend, Young said that Parsons is actively recruiting him to Happy Valley. Last weekend, the two played alongside each other at the East Coast Passing Tournament. Afterwards, Young tweeted that the two are “on the same mission.”
2 youngins on the same mission🌪 pic.twitter.com/xhPZ9JEedT
— 3k (@Isheemyoung) April 4, 2017
Antwan Reed and Marquan McCall are a pair of linemen from Michigan who Meyer hasn’t paid much attention to but are being pursued heavily by the Wolverines, Spartans, and Nittany Lions, who are recruiting on foreign territory.
Another Important State
All three programs are recruiting at least ten players from the Garden State — with the Nittany Lions, currently keeping an eye on 31 from New Jersey, really taking that “dominate the state” mantra outside of PA.
While Penn State’s biggest competition to land recruits seems to be Ohio State, Michigan will certainly be a challenge in pursuit of recruits from New Jersey, such as Tyler Friday and Jahan Dotson. The Wolverines have taken over New Jersey as a hotbed for recruits, landing the state’s top player in three of the past four years. Last year, Harbaugh hosted a satellite camp in New Jersey and invited Paramus Catholic, the alma mater of Jabrill Peppers and Rashan Gary and where defensive end recruit Dorian Hardy now attends, to play a game at the Big House. Not to mention, the Wolverines ran up the score to 78-0 at Rutgers on one of its biggest recruiting weekends of the season.
Friday, the state’s best player, said that he does not have a clear favorite, but that the Big Ten East’s bourgeoisie of Nittany Lions, Wolverines, and Buckeyes and their coaches stand out the most to him.
Penn State has always recruited Jersey well, so stay woke for the latest installment of Harbaugh’s antics this summer as he and Franklin duke it out for the state’s top talent.
Stocking Up The Line
While Penn State already has one of the deepest 2018 classes in the country, it is not very strong on the offensive line. The Nittany Lions’ lone commit is Chris Bleich, who is still talking to and visiting other schools with a speculated to flip to Rutgers in the works. Building up the offensive line has been a primary focus for Franklin in recent years, and doing so has finally given the Nittany Lions some depth at the position.
Some important recruits to look for Penn State to land in the coming months are Reed, McCall, Rasheed Walker, and Fredrick Scruggs.
Walker just added an offer from Michigan last week and is also being recruited to Ohio State by Larry Johnson Jr. Scruggs is from Erie, PA and is friends with commit Jesse Luketa, but has recently been courted strongly by the Buckeyes and Wolverines.
The good news for Penn State is that its spring game, a valuable visit to land from recruits, will not conflict with Ohio State’s or Michigan’s scrimmages this weekend. The Nittany Lions will still have to compete for spring game visits with Notre Dame, which has been gaining traction on Penn State’s poaching ground. Gant recently announced that he would be attending the Irish’s spring game.
— EJ1️⃣ (@Iam_Jermaine4) April 4, 2017
Jermaine Eskridge, who included the Nittany Lions in his top seven last month and tweeted out a graphic of him in a Penn State uniform last week, will commit on Saturday, the same day he visits Ohio State for its spring game, which Parsons will also be attending. Eskridge scheduling his announcement to be the same day as a visit seems to be tipping his hand a bit, but perhaps that would be too blatant of a move on his part so stay tuned for the next unpredictable turn of the love-to-hate, hate-to-love world of college recruiting.