COLUMBUS — Penn State did not transform from a cow college into one of the nation’s top football brands without help from its talent-rich neighbor.
Like all schools in the Big Ten, Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions mined Ohio hard. Its long history of border-crossers includes Canton’s Todd Blackledge — the star quarterback of Penn State’s 1982 national championship team — running back and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Ki-Jana Carter (Westerville), and All-American tailback Curtis Enis (Union City).
Yet when Penn State travels to No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday night, there will be a noticeable void on the visiting sideline.
Not one player will hail from the Buckeye State.
While the path to success is not required to cut through Ohio — OSU coach Urban Meyer said this week the Buckeyes are bracing for a “street fight” against a Penn State team that continues to defy reports of its demise — the Nittany Lions’ roster is a modern anomaly.
There are 151 Ohioans playing for the Buckeyes’ 11 conference rivals. Penn State has one: Hunting Valley’s Luke Vadas, a walk-on freshman receiver unlikely to be on the travel squad.
By comparison, the Ohio pipeline to other neighboring Big Ten schools continues to gush. Michigan State has 27 Ohioans, with Michigan (24), Illinois (18), Northwestern (18), and Indiana (17) just behind.
“We have three coaches that have areas of Ohio [to recruit],” Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said this week. “It’s not easy to go into Ohio and get players out of Ohio, especially with Ohio State winning 19 games in a row and playing as well as they are. But I think recruiting is about a fit. So hopefully, in the future, there will be some kids that feel like Penn State is a fit for them.”
Among those who could find Penn State a fit is Central Catholic’s Chris Green. The junior linebacker has scholarship offers from Penn State, Kentucky, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University, among others, and visited State College, Pa., for the Nittany Lions’ four-overtime win against Michigan earlier this month.
But he would counter the trend. Among the reasons for the stalled pipeline likely include Penn State’s intensifying of its traditional East-Coast recruiting under the Massachusetts-bred O’Brien — none of his assistants hail from Ohio — and the post-scandal NCAA fallout (scholarship reductions and a four-year bowl ban). The Nittany Lions’ 15 commits in the Class of 2014 all grew up to Ohio’s east, including New Jersey tight end Mike Gesicki, who chose PSU over the Buckeyes earlier this month.
Penn State’s classes, despite several high-profile recruiting victories, respectively ranked 51st and 43rd the past two years, according to Rivals.com.
Ohio State sophomore defensive end Noah Spence is among the recruits who got away during the early turmoil. The five-star prospect from Harrisburg, Pa., was a fan of his home-state school and committed to play for the Nittany Lions, but switched his pledge after OSU hired Meyer.
Spence is happy Penn State is doing better than expected, except for one week of the year, when his buddies back home playfully try to infiltrate his head. Asked if his family and friends are wishing him well this week, he laughed and said, “Not most of them.”
“It makes this game really special,” Spence said. “[Pennsylvania is] my home. I know they’re going to want to get me just as much as I want to get them.”
For once, though, there will be no Ohioan on the other sideline to say the same.
MOVING ON UP: Ohio State’s showcase nonconference home game against Virginia Tech next season has been pushed up two weeks to Sept. 6, the school announced today.
The move was prodded by ESPN with the expectation the game, originally scheduled for Sept. 20, will be a 3:30 p.m. or prime-time broadcast.
The Buckeyes open next year Aug. 30 against Navy at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. Their nonconference schedule includes home games against Kent State on Sept. 13 and Cincinnati on Sept. 27. Sept. 20 will be a bye week.
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