This coming weekend your Penn State Nittany Lions travel west on US 22 to take on the Pitt Panthers under the lights at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. As a resident of the Pittsburgh metro, I have to say I’m ecstatic that I’ll get to see the two old rivals duke it out for the 99th time. A rivalry that has been historically very even, even if Pitt has fallen off since the 80s.
And that’s a big part of it for many Penn State fans: Pitt is not currently on the same tier as Penn State. The Lions are in the hunt for the playoffs, while Pitt is in the hunt for a bowl appearance. Penn State is recruiting nationally, raking in top 25 classes, while the Panthers are sticking to more regional recruits, and lower-rated classes. The two programs are, at the moment at least, in different realms.
But you know what? Tell me that that will truly matter on Saturday. Tell me that Pitt isn’t going to go out onto the field with every intention of beating Penn State - and the belief that they will. Their coaches made key-chains after their 2016 win, and Pat Narduzzi regularly makes mention of Penn State being a big game for the Panthers. Tell me that a roster stacked with “only” 3-star recruits is going to be intimidated by Penn State’s 50% blue-chip team.
As they say with rivalry games - throw out the record book.
For me, I’m just glad that I get to be part of the history between these two teams. I’ll be spending the day on Saturday roaming downtown Pittsburgh with friends and family, taking in many of the city’s sights before walking over to the field for the game. A game that has me infinitely more worried than I was at 3:29 PM this past Saturday for the record, but a game I’m excited for nonetheless. The two teams have such history, and I’m happy to be a part of it.
Now, let me be clear - I don’t think Penn State should renew their series against Pitt indefinitely. I don’t think games against Pitt should trump those against other regional programs like West Virginia or Virginia Tech, and especially not bigger national foes such as Auburn. Those games bring their own intrigue and help Penn State in different ways, rather than penciling Pitt in to the (usually) one Power 5 opponent slot on each year’s schedule.
But playing Pitt a few times every decade? Yeah, I’d be on board with that. I haven’t heard this much chatter on the Internet about an opponent - any opponent - the last few years, except Pitt. The teams don’t like each other. The fans aren’t particularly fond of each other. The teams have played close to 100 times. Keep the local fires stoked, claim bragging rights for another few years, let the old flames die back down for a bit, and then get out the bellows and kick the embers back into a conflagration.
I’d be on board with that.