ESPN.com had an interesting look at some programs after the major conference alignment that's been taking place. Two programs that played in new conferences, Pitt and West Virginia, were featured.
For the record, ESPN rated Pitt a slightly bigger winner than West Virginia in the ACC, but if we're being honest, the Panthers' outlook is significantly better and even the most ardent Mountaineers fan would be forced to admit the same.
ESPN's primary concern about Pitt is that the team hasn't competed all that well in a mediocre division in the ACC this year, but their chances to do so in the future just look better compared to West Virginia's to me. Pitt isn't trending up all that much but that's better than the Mountaineers who could be a sinking ship.
West Virginia fans are quick to point out Pitt's attendance woes, but as ESPN notes, the Mountaineers had one of the smallest crowds in the history of their stadium to close out their bowlless season. The fact is that crowds will shrink if West Virginia doesn't win. When it comes down to it, their fans are no different than fans anywhere else - they want a winner.
Pitt had a difficult time in the ACC this season, but it was nothing compared to what West Virginia went through. Pitt was only 3-5 in the ACC this year, but didn't have any losses to teams below .500. They had a win over Division-winning Duke and were really only embarrassed once in conference by Florida State ... who embarrassed everybody.
West Virginia, meanwhile, was 4-8 and 2-7 in conference. They did beat a very good Oklahoma State team, but their only other win was against a bad (4-8) TCU squad ... by three points in overtime. The team's other two wins? William and Mary and Georgia State.
The Mountaineers lost to 3-9 Iowa State.
Lost to 3-9 Kansas.
Were blown out 37-0 by a very average Maryland team.
West Virginia just wasn't very good. Things weren't much better in 2012, either, when the team went a modest 7-5 and lost to Syracuse in their bowl game. Two years is hardly a strong sample size and Pitt has been only 6-6 the past three seasons. But as I've said all along, things aren't going to get any easier for West Virginia. Competing in the Big 12 where they're really in foreign territory against some powerhouse programs makes things very, very difficult for them to remain relevant. The ACC is a step up for Pitt but if the program makes strides under Paul Chryst, there's no reason to think the team can't compete in their division down the line.
The Panthers also have an edge when it comes to rivalry games in the ACC. While West Virginia's biggest rival is perhaps a team like Maryland, the Panthers have built in rivals in teams like Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, and even Notre Dame. None of those teams are on the same level as a Penn State or West Virginia in terms of rivals, but there is a good history with them.
Pitt, as I've noted before, is probably two years away from doing anything significant. But with a lot of young talent including what could be a dominant offensive line, the Panthers have real optimism in a few years. West Virginia, meanwhile, has a head coach that's taken a step back in each of the past two seasons and will be facing a daunting schedule year after year.
Pitt is on a bit of an alert with recruiting as West Virginia was able to come up and snag highly-touted recruit Dravon Henry from the Panthers, but overall, I think they have a lot more going against them than for them right now.
West Virginia may not be sunk in the Big 12 and they've built their program up to a top ten level in recent memory. But finding a way to compete will be an uphill battle.