Rich Barnes-US PRESSWIRE
Pitt got some great news when it was announced head coach Paul Chryst wasn't going anywhere after the Wisconsin job opened up. Having to search for yet another head coach would have not only been disastrous for the present team, but could have halted what is looking like a very good recruiting class.
But that wasn't the only news to come last week. Pitt and Penn State extended their initial two-game series by another two games and the teams will now play from 2016 to 2019. This doesn't mean the series will be an annual one again, but it's looking like things could be headed that direction. And if so, it's a great thing for both programs.
Regardless of what any fan on either side will tell you, the rivalry between the two schools still lives on. Many newer/younger Pitt fans hold far more hatred for West Virginia than Penn State and would rather play the Mountaineers. But they're also a relatively small portion of the school's fanbase. For many over the age of 35, Penn State is viewed as more of a traditional rival.
It works the other way, too. Many Penn State fans will be quick to tell you one of two things - that the rivalry isn't really a rivalry since the Nittany Lions have dominated the series lately and/or that they don't care about the series.
To the latter point first, that clearly isn't the case. Any casual stroll through a Penn State fan site, blog, or message board will quickly prove that simply isn't true. After the announcement, you could readily find insults being hurled in Pitt's direction. And that's fine - teams in a rivalry aren't supposed to like each other and despite having their program torn to shreds with the Jerry Sandusky trial, Penn State fans remain as arrogant as ever, readily willing and able to tell you that Pitt sucks. If the Panthers really didn't matter, the response would be apathy rather than a collection of useless insults.
And again - that's fine.
To the other point about Pitt not being able to be competitive, that's simply not true as well. Using Pitt's 12-0 win in the last game as a springboard for an argument as to why the team can be competitive against Penn State would be foolish. More to the point, though, the Panthers played Penn State to within a touchdown and within a field goal in the two previous matchups, despite being heavy underdogs. Rivalry games can always be close, proven by those two games and the Panthers' improbable 13-9 victory over West Virginia in 2007 with the Mountaineers on the verge of playing for a national championship. I'd also point out that as recently as 2008-2010, the Panthers fielded pretty strong teams that would have been capable of playing Penn State close given the chance.
Then there's the fact that Penn State simply hasn't been all that dominant lately. No rational human being would dispute they've been better than Pitt over the past few seasons, but they've been rather pedestrian over the past three years (2010 - 2012). Not only that, but with the program facing sanctions over the next few years, it could be a while before they're winning ten games again.
Regardless of what anyone will tell you, Pitt can surely compete against Penn State in a one-game situation. To suggest otherwise either shows outright stupidity or a complete lack of knowledge.
The simple fact is that Pitt and Penn State should be playing. That's even more the case now. With the loss of West Virginia from the schedule, Pitt is without a true rival right now. The Panthers truly benefit from having Penn State on their schedule and a virtually guaranteed sellout at Heinz Field wouldn't hurt, either. Penn State could also use a bit of goodwill in their recent situation and playing a local rival helps accomplish that. And not to mention, there are certainly Penn State fans that want to see the game played. Who could possibly argue that playing Temple instead of Pitt is really better for the Nittany Lions, anyway?
It's good to see the two schools finally start to work together to get this thing going again. It makes too much sense for it not to happen.