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Why is Penn State football targeting Rutgers in recruiting?



Penn State
Nov 19, 2022; Piscataway, New Jersey, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin (left) talks with Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Greg Schiano before the game at SHI Stadium. Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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.



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.


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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  1. BataliBoli98

    May 5, 2023 at 10:21 pm

    I don’t know. RU has used billboards in Florida and I believe Texas in the past. I think that PSU does this to try to win over recruits but also to annoy us. What’s the harm for them? The program practically prints money so that’s not the issue. 268-49 says it all. While Franklin certainly respects GS more than he did Ash, I doubt he is losing sleep over GS’s recruiting prowess. According to 247 Sports, PSU’s 2023 class has 16 four star recruits and 2 five star kids. RU has 19 three star recruits.

    • Aaron Breitman

      May 5, 2023 at 11:15 pm

      I made a lot of those same points including RU nowhere near close to PSU’s level. Rutgers has used billboards in neutral locations where they recruit at a secondary level. Putting a billboard right next to Rutgers when you just picked up your first verbal commitment from the state in five years is interesting. Franklin has been good at Penn State but seems to be too concerned about Rutgers.

      • BataliBoli98

        May 6, 2023 at 2:51 pm

        I was just emphasizing some points because I don’t believe the premise that Franklin is “concerned about Rutgers.” I think that the billboards in RU, Maryland, and Pitt territories are not out of concern but more to remind top recruits in those areas where their best chance to compete for a national title and get a huge payday in the future is. I hate PSU. My son is a high school athlete who is allowed to apply to any school in the nation except PSU. That said, Franklin sleeps like a baby during Rutgers week and by the time that changes he is likely already at his next job.

  2. Brian M

    May 5, 2023 at 10:34 pm

    The strong do what they have to do, the weak accept what they must accept.

  3. RU858

    May 6, 2023 at 11:44 am

    While Schiano aspires to achieve a winning record and bowl bid, Franklin has built a top 20 program, competitive with elite teams in the B1G. To do so, Franklin must build a pipeline of elite recruits, NJ is fertile ground for PSU. The sad truth is that Franklin takes the pick of the litter, Rutgers ends up with what is left; unclear how that changes under Schiano – who despite spending like a drunken sailor on recruiting, effectively brings a knife to a gun fight.

    I believe that Jim Delany and Tim Pernetti, who agreed to starve Rutgers of the revenues required to participate in the B1G athletics arms race. This provided founding B1G schools with the resources to upgrade facilities and staff, attract elite recruits, indirectly responsible for the Flood and Ash eras. One can only imagine where Rutgers would be today if it had the resources to hire Bret Bielema instead of Chris Ash.

    • thevinman

      May 6, 2023 at 12:06 pm

      Franklin took over a Top 20 program with a long history of success and winner of National Championships and kept them near the top. What’s next for you, praising Ryan Day for making Ohio State a top football program? The guy who deserved a lot of credit but doesn’t seem to get it Bill O’Brien as he took over a PSU team under fire for Paterno’s transgressions and made them respectable again.

      Schiano took over a program in ashes, one with little success before he came and little success after he left. The idea that Schiano’s recruiting spending is like a drunken sailor is absurd.

      • RU858

        May 6, 2023 at 9:56 pm

        I am not a fan of Franklin, his methods; simply commenting on some of the questions raised by Aaron in the piece. With that said: he has been PSU HC for 9 years, all winning, bowl-eligible seasons, current team is one of the best in the B1G.

        • thevinman

          May 7, 2023 at 12:57 pm

          Yes, he is a very good coach.

  4. dantesinfernopurgatory

    May 6, 2023 at 5:44 pm

    >Why is Penn State football targeting Rutgers in recruiting?

    Because apparently Rutgers is living rent-free in James Franklin’s head.

  5. Henry Rutgers

    May 7, 2023 at 8:02 pm

    Another thoughtful well written article. Thank you.

    Reading it I started to think about Coach Schiano wanting to build a wall around NJ and keep recruits’ home which somehow ran through my translator, and I had visions of WW1. Its trench warfare and its going to be slow going before we are a peer to PSU. Meanwhile, dig deeper and lobe some longshots Franklins way. It may take a while but we’re turning the corner.

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