Let me start by saying that Pitt fans have big aspirations for the football program. I don't blame them for that because I've not hidden the fact that I believe that Pitt has the potential to be so much more than they have been for many decades.
So let me start by saying that there is a pecking order in recruiting, and the Panthers are not currently in the top group of that pecking order.
Let's look at where Pitt stands by going down each category of program when it comes to recruiting. We will start first with the elite group that the Panthers program aspires to be.
Elite level- This is the blue bloods of the college football recruiting world. They are in this group mostly because of money (coaching salaries, facilities, stadium capacity, etc.), tradition (strong, recognizable trademark with decades of success), recruiting area (it's infinitely easier when you have a lot of top players in your local vicinity), and sometimes even a win at any cost lack of ethics (over half of the programs on this list have had at least one major incident, had probation, or have been rumored to employ suspicious practices at times).
This group includes the likes of Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State (sorry, but it's true), Clemson, Florida State, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Notre Dame, USC, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. That's sixteen programs that, for various reasons, often have the potential, because of how well they recruit, to finish in the top 10 in any given season.
Obviously there are circumstances that could prevent each of these programs from having an elite team for a stretch of time, and really only Ohio State and Alabama have avoided that for the most part. But even these programs can be derailed by poor coaching (Michigan, Oklahoma, USC, and Florida are some examples in the past few decades).
But make no mistake about it- and I can't stress this enough- these are the sixteen programs that are at the top of the heap for most kids. When one of these sixteen programs really want a kid, it's hard for for any program not in this group to get them. Not impossible, and there are many instances of top prospects turning down these programs for a program on a lower level, but more often that not these are the programs that kids want to be part of it- sometimes because they truly are the most successful, and sometimes because it's an ego thing from them or their parents to be able to brag about being at one of these blue blood programs.
Here are the recruiting rankings, via Rivals, of last year's recruiting class of this top level- Ohio State (3), Michigan (4), Penn State (23), Florida State (2), Clemson (6), Texas (7), Oklahoma (16), Nebraska (26), Notre Dame (13), USC (12), Florida (14), Georgia (11), Tennessee (15), Alabama (1), Auburn (9), and LSU (5). I didn't even look at the rankings before I listed those teams but I already knew all of their rankings would be high. And they will be just as high next year. And the year after. And so on.
Then there are two types in the second level. One is a traditionally a good, or even, mediocre program that either has a great coach, or cuts corners to win, and the other is very good programs that are below that top level. They are traditionally programs, that with stability, may not be a National Championship contender (unless it's a truly special year when everything goes right), but generally are good enough to be top 25 caliber.
In the first group is the win at all cost programs that will usually end up badly. Currently, that is Baylor and Ole Miss. Both took shortcuts, and both will pay. Enough said on those two. This group also includes schools like TCU, that are likely only in rarefied air because of Gary Patterson. If he's not at TCU, it's questionable whether they would even be in the "very good program" category.
Again using Rivals, here are last year's recruiting rankings for these seventeen programs- Louisville (36), Virginia Tech (42), Miami (21), North Carolina (24), Pittsburgh (26), West Virginia (38), Oklahoma State (48), Michigan State (18), Wisconsin (35), Iowa (42), Stanford (19), Washington (37), Oregon (28), UCLA (10), Arizona State (30), Utah (34), and Texas A&M (17).
Once again I listed those programs before I looked at their rankings, and once again it's no surprise that most are indeed a level below in their recruiting. And as you may have noticed, of the seventeen schools on this level, Pitt recruited better than ten of them last year. Now look at the six in in this group that recruited better than the Panthers last year: Miami (big name Mark Richt in an area loaded with prospects), North Carolina (Larry Fedora in his fourth season and coming off an 11-3 record), Michigan State (Mark Dantonio coming off a 12-2 season in his ninth season), Stanford (David Shaw coming off a 12-2 season in his fifth season), UCLA (Jim Mora in his fourth season, and in one of the easiest places to recruit), and Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin in his fourth season, and in a state loaded with talent).
As we can see, coaches like Bobby Petrino, Frank Beamer, Larry Fedora, Gary Patterson, Mike Gundy, Mark Dantonio, Barry Alvarez, and David Shaw are talented enough to turn good programs into excellent programs. The programs that these coaches elevated may not be elite enough to be great after that coach leaves, but they're good enough that an excellent coach can turn them into a top 10 team, and maybe more. Louisville, currently with Petrino, Beamer at Virginia Tech, Patterson at TCU, Dantonio at Michigan State, and Shaw at Stanford made their programs National Championship contenders (Petrino is possibly in the process of doing that).
Am I saying that Pat Narduzzi will definitely do that? No, I'm not. But it's certainly possible. The level of Pitt's program is such that a great coach could make Pitt a National Championship contender, if they have an excellent coach. Not every program can say that. The Panthers definitely have that possibility. And if Narduzzi turns into that coach, and if they want to keep the program at it's newly elevated status, they will need to pay him. All of the coaches in the above programs got raises for their accomplishment. But we will worry about that when/if the time comes.
Now let's look at some specifics when it comes to Pitt. The first thing to look at are the local elite prospects that want to stay home. Pitt fans understandably get bummed out when a top local kid goes elsewhere, but just because you want them badly that does not make them immune to wanting, like kids all over the country, to be in one of the blue blood programs. Kids (and their parents) get stars in their eyes. "I can play for legendary Notre Dame?" or "I can't believe Ohio State is recruiting me!" is a natural response for kids.
But look at the bright side. One, not every local kid is swayed by that. Damar Hamlin, Paris Ford, Kaezon Pugh, Tyler Boyd, and Dorian Johnson are just some of the local kids recently that could have gone just about anywhere, but chose Pitt instead. And there will be others that follow.
Secondly, Dantonio at Michigan State and Gary Patterson at TCU are perfect examples of programs that recruited about the same level as Pitt is recruiting now (actually, in TCU's case they were recruiting at a much lower level), but then when they got better, their recruiting skyrocketed.
Thirdly, you don't need top 20 recruiting classes to be a top 20, or even top 10, team. Louisville is currently No. 3 in the nation. Their last four recruiting classes were ranked by Rivals as 41, 36, 32, and 36. Houston is No. 6 in the nation and Rivals ranks their last four classes as 48, 77, 91, and 41. Wisconsin is No. 11 and their last four classes are 54, 33, 44, and 35. Just a reminder, in Narduzzi's first class he was ranked No. 26. Even Dantonio's last four classes were 47, 22, 22, and 18, meaning even his classes after he already established himself as a great, highly successful coach, were not that much better than Narduzzi already did in his first year. And if Pitt's class this year slips a little bit into the 35 or 40 range, so what? Dantonio just had a No. 47 class not long ago. Some years things just don't go your way. For the record, I still think Pitt's class will at least be No. 35 when all is said and done, which is still good enough with the right coaching.
Bottom line, don't get caught up in recruiting hype. A portion of Pitt fans ink in a Donovan Jeter and then when they don't get him they think the program is doomed. The problem with social media and message boards are that pessimistic and paranoid people can get people worked up way too easily, and then the doom and paranoia feeds itself with more doom and paranoia. There's no need for doom and paranoia. Narduzzi is recruiting well enough to win big at Pitt. I just proved it. I'm not saying he definitely will win big because until he does it, he hasn't done it. But Narduzzi is adding top 25 talent at Pitt, and if he ends up being the coach that most of us expect, he's also recruiting enough to be a top 10 team from time to time. Nothing has changed with Pitt. They are a very good program that could be a national power with the right coach. And for the first time in decades there are legitimate signs that they have that coach.