Here’s a fun thought experiment for you - what if, back in the early 1990s, Penn State had opted for the ACC rather than the Big Ten?
Of course there are a lot of elements that would have changed, but let’s imagine just for a minute than in 2019, Penn State was a member of the ACC, perhaps with Pitt traded out. Let’s say in the early 90s, the Big Ten desperately wanted Pitt (I know, humor me), and the Panthers joined the B1G. Let’s say that Penn State instead joined the ACC, and let’s also assume the same other expansions, including Miami, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse in the intervening years. Here’s how the ACC would look:
As much as I enjoy the Big Ten, it’s fun to think how this conference would play out. Playing teams in Virginia, one of our regular recruiting grounds would be fun, and having an extended presence in the southeast could only help our visibility with the recruiting hotbed down that way.
For an extra fun exercise, here’s what our schedule would look like in 2019 if we flipped spots with Pitt:
at Georgia Tech
at Virginia Tech
....Does any team on that schedule scare you? There’s no team in the same continent as Ohio State or Michigan on that schedule. UCF, Syracuse, and Miami (FL) would all be fun games, but I can’t imagine Penn State wouldn’t be favored in all three.
With that schedule, I’d put Penn State’s win total O/U at 11.5, and could reasonably put money on the over. Then get past one game against Clemson and you’re looking at the playoffs - or, shoot, even at 12-1 have a chance at backing in. For the record, S&P+ has Pitt getting 5.9 wins against that schedule, in case anyone is worried about week 3 this year.
Conversely, this would be Pitt’s schedule:
at Michigan State
at Ohio State
The bottom of that schedule is easier, I think - Rutgers, Buffalo, and Idaho are probably all weaker than Ohio, or at least in the same category. But the top? Hoo boy. Even the middle tier, including games against MSU, Iowa, Purdue, and Minnesota would be tough outs. The oddsmakers have the O/U for Penn State at 9.5 this year against that schedule - how does Pitt do? Half?
In any case, Penn State is in the Big Ten, and Pitt is in the ACC. This is the last year the two teams will meet for the foreseeable future, so these comparisons will likely fade over time. Still, it’s fun to wonder how Penn State would do in the ACC had the path through history been just a little different.