A Tradition Like No Other

Okay, so maybe it's not that big of a deal. But after some early focus this week on, *gasp*, basketball, time to turn my attention span to the Backyard Brawl tomorrow. I'm not sure of the reason, but this year, I haven't gotten into all the hype that surrounds the game. But make no mistake, this is a HUGE game. For one thing, the 2007 game which has gone down in one of the series' best, has played a huge part in the direction the teams have taken since then. We all know the ramifcations from that game - the departure of Rich Rod, the Big East losing out on a potential national champion, the huge boost in Pitt recruiting, etc. Dave Wannstedt talks about that recruiting, which just may be the thing that's helped Pitt get back in the national spotlight:
"I remember going out there for pregame warm-ups and the recruits were all lined up on the sidelines and I looked over and could see all of these kids that we were recruiting and that they were recruiting. Within 10-14 days (after the game) we got eight commitments. Two or three of those kids that were right there (at the game) committed with us."

And then because of the proximity of the schools, of course there are folks with ties to both sides.

Many of the stories I've seen this week are focusing on the two players who may decide the game - running backs Dion Lewis and Noel Devine. They might also be the best offensive players on the field as well and Dion Lewis leads the conference in rushing.

Coach Wannstedt apparently isn't too thrilled on the statement the guys blocking for Lewis are trying to make:
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt isn't a fan of his players drawing attention to themselves with their outward appearance — especially before the Backyard Brawl — so he was a bit torn about his starting offensive linemen sporting bleached-blonde Mohawk haircuts this week.

"You better be ready to back it up — that's what I told them," said Wannstedt, a left tackle at Pitt in the early 1970s. "The great thing about playing the offensive line is nobody knows who you are except the people in that meeting room and that building. We know how important they are.

Personally, I don't know what the big deal is. Haircuts - really? That's what we're worried about?

Even though the game does get some national attention, it's not considered in the upper eschelon of rivalries outside of Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Ohio State/Michigan, Auburn/Alabama, even Florida/Tennessee are all probably considered bigger games for one simple reason - many national champions have come from those teams. For Pitt/WVU to get any bigger nationally, the game is going to have to have more at stake and the teams will have to regularly be ranked in the top 15.

Brian Bennett at ESPN.com also looks to see if Pitt will be looking past this game ahead to the matchup against Cincinnati for the title. Personally, I really hope that's not the case as Pitt can still finish third in the conference and give West Virginia the Gator Bowl. If Pitt gets past WVU tomorrow but loses to Cincy, the Gator Bowl is not locked up, but I'd think the committee would have a hard time picking a 7-5 Notre Dame team (should they beat Stanford, which is hardly a guarantee) over a 10-2 Pitt team.

So what am I looking for tomorrow? I'm looking for a close game and a Pitt win. This is the most complete Pitt team I've ever seen and while a loss is possible in a rivalry game such as this, I'd be shocked if they lost this year. Pitt just looks to be entirely too good and konws what's at stake.

Pitt 27 / WV 21

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