After 20 seasons as a Big East football member, Pitt will play their final game as a member of the conference on Saturday against the South Florida Bulls. Let's be real - this season hasn't turned out the way Pitt fans have hoped for, but part of me says we should have seen this coming with all of the coaching changes this program has endured in the past two years. But even though Pitt limped their way through their final Big East season, this game still holds some sentimental value for me. Growing up in Connecticut during the 90's, Pitt as a Big East member is all I've known.
Pitt's time as a Big East member will probably be remembered in two parts - the pre-2004 era where the program was largely forgotten on the national scene and was far behind the conference leaders when it came to competing for championships, and post-2004 when Pitt failed to seize opportunities to go to a BCS bowl despite a wide open Big East. The 2004 season, of course, the Panthers actually reached the BCS. After that, teams such as UConn and Cincinnati went to BCS bowls in place of the Panthers. Unfortunately, Pitt was never the power that fans had grown accustomed to in the decade prior to the Panthers joining the conference as a football member.
That's not to say that Pitt didn't have their moments in the spotlight. Virginia Tech spent their final seasons as Big East members falling to the Panthers, often as a ranked team to a losing a Pitt squad that wasn't as highly regarded. The Panthers played numerous games against West Virginia where conference titles (and one time a national title) were at stake. And recently, the winner of the Pitt-Cincinnati game won at least a share of the Big East title for four consecutive seasons before this season.
Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't offer some sort of congrats to the Scarlet Knights for getting into the Big Ten. The Rutgers game wasn't usually a big one for Pitt, but the program did give the Panthers some fits over the years. The Panthers will still play Syracuse every season in the ACC, but the Syracuse-Pitt "rivalry" was never viewed that way by the fans. And Pitt hasn't played most of the newer schools enough times to really build that level of hatred necessary for a good rivalry. I will, however, miss the Backyard Brawl. And even if the two sides do agree to some sort of series, it just won't feel the same without some kind of conference title at stake.
The Big East will always be a part of Pitt, for better or for worse. For me, it will certainly be weird when they take the field next fall as an ACC member. Regardless of how the game against the Bulls Saturday turns out, Pitt fans should look back at the past 20 years with fondness and appreciate what the Big East gave them - a place for the athletics programs to grow, games that placed the program in front of a national audience, and most of all, a home for the football team the past 20 years.