Pitt and Penn State: A Rivalry Renewed

Story posted September 7, 2017 in CommRadio by Cooper Deck

The first time Penn State and Pittsburgh squared off on the gridiron was in 1893. At the time, the United States had only 44 states and Grover Cleveland was the president.

While a lot has changed since then, the heated rivalry between these two Pennsylvania athletic powerhouses has remained. This Saturday, Pitt will make the the short two-and-a-half-hour trip northeast on Pennsylvania State Route 22 to face the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley.

This rivalry dates all the way back to when the two teams were independents. When the two intrastate rivals decided to join their respective conferences in the 1990s -- Penn State the Big Ten and Pitt now a member of the ACC) the Big East -- many feared that this rivalry would never be the same.

Flash forward roughly 25 years and this rivalry is as stifling as it has ever been.

Some say rivalries are a love-hate relationship. This is not the case, however, in this matchup. There is more at stake than a sole victory. Respect, pride and bragging rights in state of Pennsylvania are all on the line when these two teams take the field.

No. 4 Penn State walks into this game with a bad taste in their mouth after last year’s 42-39 loss at Pitt. No one knew at the time, but this loss may have been the game that would keep Penn State out of the College Football Playoff when it was all said and done.

While Penn State went on to win nine of their next 10 games, their loss to Pitt in the second game of the season was likely the reason the College Football Playoff Selection Committee elected to leave them out of the top four teams. There is no doubt that the revenge factor is going to play a huge role in this game.

As for Pitt, they head into this contest winning the last two games against Penn State, the latter coming in devastating fashion. Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi even chose to deny media access to his team for the rest of the week.

"It has nothing to do with keeping [the media] out," Narduzzi said. "It's just keeping our kids tight." 

Penn State Head Coach James Franklin, on the other hand, is treating the preparation for this game like business as usual.

“You focus on the things you can control. Outside noise is not one of them. Expectations are not one of them. Cheers or boos are not one of them,” Franklin said in a press conference Tuesday. “So that’s why we don’t change our approach. That’s why I don’t provide access to the media one week and not the next, because our players know what to expect. Our media knows what to expect. Our fans know what to expect. I know what to expect. I wake up in the morning, I know exactly what I’ve got for the day, and I think there’s comfort in that, and I think there’s confidence in that when you have a routine.”

If history is any indication, Penn State has the upper hand heading into Saturday’s matchup. Against Pitt, who Penn State has played more than any other team in college football, they hold a 50-43-4 all-time record.

Last year’s game between these two teams marked the first time they matched up against each other since September 16, 2000, a game Pitt won 12-0.

Pitt-Penn State was once considered the best rivalry in college football. While it has lost traction over the 16-year period the teams did not play each other, it appears to be back on track to reach that status once again. This renewed rivalry is great for college football from a macro perspective. It is rare to see a rivalry of this magnitude take place this early on in the season.

Everything else aside, one thing is for sure: This game will surely not disappoint.

Cooper Deck is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email cfd8@psu.edu