When Boston College takes on Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl, it'll be as much of a regional match as any other game in college football's postseason. It'll be something of an old-school game, at least from a branding standpoint, between two teams dating back years and years on the eastern college football scene.
It'll be something much more than that, though, since it'll give Boston College a great chance to showcase its talents as the premier program of the northeast against a team residing in the middle of some of the more fertile proving ground for high school football players.
As it stands right now within ESPN's recruit tracker, the Penn State Nittany Lions have the ninth best recruiting class in the nation, while the Boston College Eagles rank 36th. Within those numbers, Penn State has 19 commits, ten of whom rank with four stars and nine of whom rank with three stars. BC, meanwhile, has 24 commits, one of whom has four stars, 22 of whom have three stars, and one of whom is classified as "other."
Of the four-star recruits committed to Penn State, half are from their home state of Pennsylvania, including the #9-ranked tackle, Sterling Jenkins. For BC, their one four-star recruit (Wyatt Knopfke) is from Florida, while ten are from the New England region (aka Massachusetts and Connecticut; none are from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island).
There is a very real opinion that prime football talent doesn't grow in New England, let alone in Massachusetts. Massachusetts high school football will never be on the level of Texas, Pennsylvania, or Florida, and the best of the best from the Bay State can't hold a candle to the different areas of the nation in terms of recruiting.
If that were the case, though, Steve Addazio's theory to "build a fence" around Massachusetts would be completely asinine and would almost assuredly be leading Boston College down a path to destruction. Yet when we look at Addazio, all we keep thinking about is how good the team will be when he gets his recruits in. We can't be looking at both sides of the coin, one where Addazio is supposedly recruiting superior athletes under his theory, yet complain when he brings in substantial amounts of recruits from Massachusetts and Connecticut.
This makes the Pinstripe Bowl a great intersection of perception against reality on the recruiting trail. BC is a team built on a bunch of never-will-bes and maybe-might-bes in college football, a group of cast-offs built by the coach moreso than the athlete. They're very young and raw, with a number of recruits from New Jersey and Connecticut. They're a team built on coaching by a guy who came from Temple, and they're a bunch of guys recruited by Frank Spaziani, which, I mean...c'mon.
Penn State, meanwhile, is a team built almost exclusively from one of the most fertile recruiting states in the US. They're almost exclusively from Pennsylvania with recruiting done by a coach worthy of being named a head man in the NFL (Bill O'Brien) and one of the hot names coming out of Vanderbilt (James Franklin). They play in a league considered to be substantially better than the ACC by some, which is how Ohio State got into the College Football Playoff while Florida State kept falling despite being remaining undefeated.
This game will be a chance to analyze the recruiting trail and determine if the athletes coming from other parts of the nation are, in fact, better than the ones up here. Boston College has an average recruit score of just around 71, while Penn State is hovering near or above 79. That eight point difference is good enough to put Penn State in the top 20, while BC is hovering near 40. They're also going head-to-head for a current recruit: Christian Wilkins, a four star guy from, of all places, Connecticut.
Personally speaking, I won't sit here and tell you that Massachusetts is this great proving ground for elite athletes. The 12th best recruit, the top rated kid yet to make his college announcement, is a 6'2" receiver considered a good fit as a "possession receiver" or defensive back. We have kids who are well under six feet tall pressing the top 25, who are being looked at by schools like UMass and Fordham. While they might have solid careers and even develop, those aren't the kids being looked at by Florida State or Texas. Anything outside the top ten in any of the New England states are bound for lower levels of competition (case in point: #12 and #13 in Connecticut and #15 and #16 in Massachusetts committed to UMass while #11 committed to UConn. Combined, the University of Connectachusetts still isn't bowl eligible with five wins).
I will sit here, though, and say that the top of the state is just as good as any other recruits out there. They're solid kids with raw ability, kids who have futures in football with the right refinement and coaching. Of the top 10 recruits in the state of Massachusetts, eight are coming to BC. The top recruit is a kicker not choosing BC (because of course he isn't), but after that, the Eagles received commitments from the best of the best within the state with only a couple of exceptions.
In Connecticut, three of the top 10 athletes are going to BC, including the third best recruit in the Nutmeg State. The top two recruits, both members of the ESPN300, are still uncommitted, both with offers from BC. Two of the commits to BC are higher than the one Nutmegger committed to Penn State. There are guys committed to Northwestern, Duke, and Syracuse before the "outside the top 10 drop off" I mentioned above.
Recruiting doesn't mean anything in terms of future success, and it means even less towards right now. If BC is going into New York City to take on a team from Pennsylvania with a bunch of local kids and Spaz guys, then hypothetically we'll get smacked and smashed. But we're not going into this game to lose, and we're going into this game with the intention of having it assist on the recruiting trail.
That recruiting trail leads right back to the home region, to Massachusetts, to Connecticut. If that's how Addazio wants to do it, and that's the way we're going to do it. And if we do it, then this is the first step towards letting the rest of the world know that this is a football state.