One point of frustration for Rutgers football fans since joining the Big Ten has been the lack of success against Penn State. Since joining the conference, RU is 0-9 against the Nittany Lions. Overall, PSU is 31-2 all-time against the Scarlet Knights. The last Rutgers win came at Happy Valley in 1988.
James Franklin has led Penn State to a 78-33 record over nine seasons. His team finished with an 11-2 record last season. They ended the year ranked No. 7 nationally in both the AP and coaches polls.
He took over the program the same year Rutgers joined the Big Ten. PSU has dominated the series. The Nittany Lions have outscored RU 268-49 in nine games for an average score of 29.8-5.4.
Franklin has completely dominated the series ever since that fateful 2014 meeting when Rutgers lost 13-10 on a Bill Belton touchdown in the final minute of the game. It was Belton, a Sicklerville, New Jersey native, who made waves the week of the game. In explaining why he passed on Rutgers during his recruitment, Belton stated “I wanted to play big-time college football, so I came to Penn State.”
From 2014 to 2019, Franklin signed 18 recruits out of New Jersey high schools, an average for 3 per year during his first six recruiting cycles as head coach at PSU. And that didn’t even count the most painful moment during that time frame. Top Rutgers commit in the 2015 recruiting class, Saquon Barkley, ultimately flipped to Penn State. While Barkley was a Pennsylvania native, he actually referred to Rutgers as his “dream school” initially. Ultimately, he ended up in State College, having a tremendous college career. Barkley is currently starring for the New York Giants.
On the field results against Penn State have not improved since Greg Schiano returned to Rutgers after the 2019 season. RU has been outscored by PSU 106-17 in three games under Schiano since taking over ahead of the 2020 campaign. However, Franklin’s success rate in recruiting New Jersey has plummeted.
The Nittany Lions have signed just one recruit out of high school from the Garden State since Schiano arrived. However, 3-star defensive lineman Amin Vanover, who held offers from Alabama, Clemson and Georgia, verbally committed to Franklin almost six months before Schiano was hired by Rutgers.
In the 2021, 2022, and 2023 recruiting cycles, Penn State offered 26 recruits from New Jersey. None signed with the Nittany Lions. To be fair, many signed at big time programs like Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma and Florida. However, three recruits offered by Franklin signed with Rutgers in the last three years.
They include 4-star offensive lineman Jacob Allen and 3-star edge rusher Kenny Fletcher from the 2022 class. Allen was ranked the No. 2 recruit in New Jersey while Fletcher was No. 7. In the 2023 class Rutgers signed 3-star offensive lineman Nick Oliveira, who was No. 12 in the state.
Now recently in the 2025 class, Penn State has landed two verbal commitments in 4-star Jaelyne Matthews and 3-star Omari Gaines. Matthews is the top ranked recruit in NJ in the class. That’s the first two verbal’s Franklin has received since Schiano returned.
To be clear, PSU is thriving overall with recruiting. Franklin’s three classes since Schiano returned were ranked No. 21, No. 6 and No. 13 nationally as well as No. 2 in the Big Ten twice. The best RU has done is finish No. 33 overall and No. 8 in the Big Ten with the 2022 class. Rutgers is still way behind Penn State both on the field and in recruiting. All data is from 247 Sports composite rankings.
That’s what makes a recent decision by Franklin and PSU so interesting. The program announced this week they were putting up billboards on major highways to promote former players in the NFL. They did the same thing last May as well in three parts of Pennsylvania, as well as in Maryland. The difference? This time they have also put a billboard near exit 9 on the New Jersey Turnpike. The same exit for Rutgers University.
Be on the lookout! 👀🛣️
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) May 3, 2023
It’s even more curious when you consider that Schiano is best known for two things at Rutgers.
1) Turning the program around in the mid-2000’s with multiple bowl wins
2) Developing many former players at RU who made NFL rosters.
Many former Rutgers players had successful careers including Devin and Jason McCourty, Anthony Davis, Mo Sanu, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon to name a few. Most recently, rookie Isaiah Pacheco was a key part in the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl this past season.
In addition, Christian Braswell was drafted last weekend and became the 91st Rutgers player to join the NFL under head coach Greg Schiano. Six other players signed undrafted free agent deals. And another NFL connection is with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. He just spoke at the Rutgers coaches clinic last month and their strong relationship is well documented.
Promoting NFL players from Penn State off the exit of the turnpike for Rutgers is a statement for sure. I’m just not sure it’s the statement Franklin thinks it is.
This was actually not the first time Penn State has placed a billboard near Rutgers. They did it last fall as well to promote players on their roster from New Jersey. They had seven players from the state last season and now they’re down to five entering the 2023 season.
All roads lead to Happy Valley 🛣️📍🦁
Starting today, we have billboards up in…
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) August 15, 2022
Penn State is a top ten college football program once again under Franklin. Rutgers is nowhere close to their level, even since Schiano has returned. However, Rutgers appears to be very much on Franklin’s mind. The billboards prove it.
While the Scarlet Knights aren’t competing with PSU on the field or holding their own recruiting wise, there are now longer open floodgates into New Jersey. Even though RU isn’t landing many Franklin targets, they have landed two more top ten recruits in the last two cycles than he has. The program is more respectable now than when Kyle Flood and Chris Ash were the head coach.
It might be taking awhile to see major progress on the field, but Rutgers isn’t as easy a target for Franklin to dismiss. The culture is improved, there are far less negative incidents off the field and Schiano is much more respected within New Jersey on the recruiting trail. Relationships matter. Now that Schiano is back, Franklin has adapted and landing top recruits elsewhere. However, it’s not for a lack of trying in New Jersey.
With Penn State having 13 verbal commits in the 2024 class, there are zero from NJ so far. A mutual target, 4-star safety Willy Love from Camden, was just predicted by national recruiting analyst Brian Dohn to end up at Rutgers. Love has an official visit for June.
Franklin doesn’t need to have recruiting success in New Jersey to win in State College. However, Penn State always has been a recruiting force in the state for decades. Now they have been less so until the recent exception of Matthews. Part of the plan to regain a stronghold is paying for a second billboard near Rutgers in less than a year. For a Big Ten power, it’s an approach that is surprising.
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