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John Steigerwald: Pitt Needs Buzz, Not Youngstown State

John Steigerwald: Pitt Needs Buzz, Not Youngstown State

Notice any buzz about the opening of Pitt football season?

Neither did I.

Youngstown State coming to town is never going to create a buzz. Youngstown State coming to Pittsburgh is part of the stupidity of major college football, same as Akron and Georgia State showing up in State College to play Penn State.

The good news is Pitt visits State College in Week 2.

No need to go into the stupidity of Pitt and Penn State not playing each other from 2000 until last season, but that’s the kind of buzz Pitt needs a lot more than Penn State.

Ninety thousand would probably show up in Happy Valley to watch Penn State play against 11 tackling dummies.

As long as tailgating wasn’t cancelled.

Pitt and Penn State should be opening the season with each other for the next 50 years or so. Especially for Pitt’s sake.

Penn State doesn’t have to compete with the Steelers and the Penguins.

To go along with college football stupidity, Pitt should be playing Ohio U. at home after Penn State instead of Oklahoma State, but Pitt can’t go along with college football stupidity and expect to fill the stadium the way Penn State can and that’s a problem for Pitt.

If you expect to get into the Top 10, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that you have to play at least two cupcakes.

Pitt still has Rice on the schedule for Week 5 but that’s not the cupcake that it once was. Pitt needs big crowds to help with recruiting. Especially when Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan are sniffing around for players in the backyard and selling 90-110,000 fans at home games.

But Pitt is playing in a pro town and will never fill Heinz Field even if the program becomes a perennial Top 10. It’s the classic chicken or the egg situation.

Local kids are aware enough to know that they’re not aware of any noticeable buzz for Pitt football and most of the top local recruits’ first look for a spot to play is out of town.

The problem for Pitt is that it’s unrealistic to expect more than 45,000 for games at Heinz Field. People, including the media, make the mistake of comparing Pitt’s attendance to the Steelers. The team that went 33-3 for three years under Jackie Sherrill a million years ago only had 56,000 seats to fill at Pitt Stadium and didn’t do that very often.

Pitt’s announced attendance is about 42,000 per game. The announcement has been known to cause giggling in the press box but that’s the official number that’s put out there.

It’s actually nothing to be ashamed of or even apologize for.

The average attendance for FBS programs – after a drop for the sixth consecutive year – was 43,106.

Pitt’s official attendance was 42, 091 if you don’t include the 69,000-plus for Penn State. Include that one game and it’s above average attendance/

ACC  games averaged 49,827, lowest among the Power 5 conferences.

The SEC averaged 77,565 and the Big Ten, 66,162. There aren’t a lot of programs in those conferences that are competing with a perennial Super Bowl contender for media attention.

Pitt has always been comparable to Miami in attendance even when Miami was competing for mythical national championships.

San Diego State doesn’t have the Chargers to compete with anymore and it’s considering building a 35,000 seat stadium. Despite winning 22 games the last two years, average attendance was about 37,000.

Pitt fans and Pittsburgh media who insist on focusing on empty seats at Heinz Field need to wake up to the fact that Pitt will probably have at least 15,000 empty seats at every home game. That won’t be a reflection on the talent level of the team or the excitement of the games. It will be a reflection of reality.

And, by the way, any objective person would agree that Pitt games were much more exciting than Steelers games last season.

Pat Narduzzi is a good coach and appears to be a good recruiter. Like every Pitt coach before him, he can’t sell kids on the thrill of playing in front of huge crowds. He has to sell them on early opportunities to play and a history of developing future NFL all pros and Hall of Famers.

Winning will take care of the crowd sizes. Obsessing about attendance figures and expecting to draw much more than half the crowds that Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan draw is a waste of time and energy.

Do you think Aaron Donald, LeSean McCoy and Tom Savage have any regrets about playing in front of relatively small crowds in Pittsburgh?

Beating Youngstown State or Akron U. by six touchdowns will impress nobody. A close loss to an upper echelon team would actually be better for the program in the long run.

Pitt has a tough schedule this year but it’s the only kind of schedule that makes sense for a team competing for attention with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Narduzzi has already shown that he can field a team that can compete with the top programs.

I’m pretty sure Pitt was the only team to beat the Mythical National Champion last season.

On the road.

That’s a pretty good start on the way to creating a buzz.

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