Since the Big East so graciously allowed West Virginia to depart the conference, Pitt is at risk of becoming Penn State - stuck in a conference without a true rival. So can Pitt find one for 2012?
For the sake of this argument, I'm looking only at schools playing football and basketball in the conference next season. I'm throwing out South Florida due to any lack of a real history and because of distance. That leaves us with Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Rutgers, and Syracuse.
Should it be the Bearcats? Pitt has had a mild rivalry with Cincinnati in recent memory, and the past few seasons, both teams have met on the gridiron with Big East title implications for both sides. There have been a few memorable games between Pitt and Cincy, the most well-known obviously being the 2009
disaster game. Meanwhile, Mick Cronin has done a remarkable job restoring a once proud Cincinnati basketball program back to its former glory and looks to be just as good next season.
What about the Huskies? The Pitt-UConn basketball game has often had a part in deciding top seeding in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments in recent memory. There have been several times in the past decade where both teams were ranked. Usually, they involve Jim Calhoun complaining how the refs allow Pitt to be too physical after the Panthers win. UConn has also been a thorn in Pitt's side when it comes to football, beating the Panthers when they've generally had the more talented team. Another storyline is that football coach Paul Pasqualoni also consistently beat the Panthers while he was the head coach at Syracuse, so perhaps some older fans would like to see Pitt beat the Huskies and Pasqualoni one last time.
The Cardinals? Bring up the name Rick Pitino and usually most Pitt fans react with some form of disgust. Louisville has been the one team on this list that Pitt usually struggles against in basketball. It certainly makes it easier to hate Louisville as Pitino isn't apparently isn't all that high on Pitt. Charlie Strong has continued to rebuild the program and should be the favorite to win the Big East this upcoming season with the talent the Cardinals now have.
How about Rutgers? Long have they been the proverbial punching bag in football and basketball. Yet this season holds great promise for the Scarlet Knights. In football, they should be one of the top teams in the conference. If they can overcome the loss of Greg Schiano, they have a lot of potential. Mike Rice has started to get the program to some form of respectability in the Big East, yet they still have a ways to go. Rutgers is recently that one loss on the season where Pitt fans are just left scratching their heads.
And finally, we have the Orange. Syracuse is our fellow traitor, so we have that sense of camaraderie where you just have to root for the two schools to dominate the Big East (at least until we get to the ACC). We should start hating them now, though, as they are our future football rival, as is commanded by our new leaders on Tobacco Road. They are tied with Notre Dame as our 3rd most commonly played opponent in football. It's also quite enjoyable (outside of this season) to watch Pitt completely destroy Jim Boeheim's heralded 2-3 zone.
So who do you think? Personally, I would have to say Syracuse as they are the only school Pitt is guaranteed to continue playing in the future. If there's anything to note, though, it's that there isn't a clear cut choice with the loss of West Virginia.