When it comes to the Pitt-Penn State game this weekend, go ahead and file this in your annual, 'not a rivalry game' file.
Count Penn State receiver Juwan Johnson among those that isn't ready to call the Pitt-Penn State game any different from the others.
"It's just Game No. 2," he said during a conference call Tuesday. "We have to treat it as one game. ... It's just another game for us."
Many on the Penn State side (players and fans alike) have insisted that Pitt isn't a rival and this is merely the latest example. Some, even claimed (right before a Pitt win, of course) last year that the Panthers aren't worthy of being Penn State's rival. That's some of that 'arrogance personified' I wrote about after last year's game.
While Johnson doesn't specifically say the Panthers aren't a rival, his intentions were pretty clear. To him (at least publicly) Pitt as no different than teams such as Akron and Georgia State, both teams the Nittany Lions have on this year's schedule.
Now, to be fair to Johnson, he didn't trash Pitt at all. And his one-game-at-a-time stance perfectly echoes what coach James Franklin (and most coaches, by the way) preach. But by calling it 'just another game,' it also makes clear that, at least to Johnson, Pitt is no different than the likes of some of the bottom-feeders the team faces. He may acknowledge that Pitt is better, but his argument, essentially, is that the game doesn't matter any more than playing a team like Georgia State.
I don't particularly buy it and I'm guessing that anyone with a nickel's worth of sense doesn't, either.
It's worth pointing out, of course, that Johnson's stance is perfectly fine. He's certainly entitled to his own opinion and if he treats the game as no different than one against, say, Akron, I mean, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But do I believe that Penn State came here last year, lost, and hearing 42-39 all year long didn't bother them any more than any other loss? Nah, not really.
As Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said in his press conference this week, whether or not Penn State considers the game a rivalry is irrelevant from a Pitt perspective. The Panthers have been pretty clear about this - it's a rivalry game and one they take important. That's not only documented by how often the two teams have played in their histories but how the fanbases continually snip at each other in everything from athletics to academics. To say it is anything other than a rivalry is, at this point, just flat out silly.