Dana Holgorsen made a comment last week at the Big 12 media day, he would be interested in renewing the Backyard Brawl. Pitt already has a established a four game slate with in-state rivals, Penn State, that is set to start in 2016. Steve Pederson made some noise last year when Pitt announced a home and home with Oklahoma State. Along with those scenarios, Notre Dame became an associate member of the ACC. It still allows Pitt to play the Fighting Irish on occasion, but the annual effect to the game is over. All of those factors make for an interesting route Pitt could take regarding their non-conference schedule; so now we can take an extended look at all the given scenarios.
As long as the ACC keeps the eight game conference slate, it allows Pitt some flexibility in scheduling. On certain years, Pitt will be required to play Notre Dame. Also, as long as the NCAA allows teams to play FCS opponents, I can't imagine Pitt not scheduling one as long as all the other big programs continue to do so. Almost all programs take on games against MAC/Sun Belt/Conference USA types. So we can take a look at things this way for the foreseeable future.
- 8 ACC games
- An FCS opponent
- A MAC opponent/Navy
- Notre Dame/Power 5 team
- Power 5 team
Now to focus on the big games of the non-conference slate. It seems Pitt is most interested in playing Penn State on an annual basis, with Notre Dame rotating in and an Oklahoma State type team playing on non-Notre Dame years. Could West Virginia be that team? Does Penn State want to play the game beyond the four year agreement? James Franklin does, but do the higher ups? A lot has to be taken into consideration. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango.
Playing Penn State makes a lot of sense. The Nittany Lions would be Pitt's most played opponent if not for the current 16 year hiatus we are currently sitting in. Penn State is a big name football brand, and they only sit a few hours east of Pittsburgh. Pitt squaring up with Penn State would impact recruiting far more than playing any other team in the country. James Franklin is recruiting very well, and taking him head on would be a recruiting tactic both teams could use on prospects. Penn State has always recruited well and they have always been a contender to win the Big Ten. As it stands now, the sanctions from the Sandusky debacle has not slowed them down, and they will hit the ground running when they are bowl eligible again. In the long term, Penn State is going to be a top tier program, and it would be a good barometer to play the big in-state game annually, as most states already do.
Renewing the Backyard Brawl would also make a lot of sense, but for some different reasons. For one reason or another, Pitt fans have scoffed at the notion of playing West Virginia again. The Mountaineers bring in a traditional game, and tradition seems to be getting lost in college football these days. West Virginia and Pitt have met 104 times, with Pitt leading that series 61-40-3. West Virginia certainly is not the program Penn State is, as they have not adapted well to the Big 12 yet. They offer very little recruiting wise, and playing in Pittsburgh every other year would benefit them greatly by getting exposure in an important recruiting area. I'm sure playing a familiar opponent like Pitt is something their fans could get behind. This is the rivalry many fans of both sides have grown up with, and it would no doubt be a nationally televised event if the two schools ever get back together. We all know about Pitt's attendance problems, and those same issues have even crept up on West Virginia and Penn State too. Playing these games once again would ensure sell-outs at all three venues.
Of course, it does not have to be so cut and dry. Pitt could be creative and find a way to get both on the schedule. On certain years where Notre Dame is not on the schedule, Pitt could possibly manage both a West Virginia and a Penn State game. It would please all sides of the fan base on this argument, and give the program two chances to be highly visible on national television outside of the ACC.
There is also one more alternative, and that could be Pitt playing teams outside of their conventional schedule. Pitt is doing the Oklahoma State game in the future. They have also played Iowa, Utah, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Texas A&M in recent memory. Pitt could continue to play other power five conference games and mixing things up from the norm. If Pitt elevates their program under Chryst, some high profile non-conference games played at neutral sites could be something different for this program.
So what do you think? Should Pitt stick with Penn State? Renew the Brawl? A little of both? Something different? Let's hear your opinion in the comments section.