Pitt and Penn State will play for the 100th time this weekend in their series that began back in 1893.
At one time, this series was one of the best in college football, but unfortunately with the two teams being in separate conferences, that has changed.
Despite what some older people associated with this rivalry want, the reality is things will never be what they once were.
The other harsh reality is that this game honestly doesn’t mean much to either program. That’s the truth.
The ultimate goal for both teams is to win their division and play in the conference championship game and losing on Saturday does nothing to impact that goal.
Some might argue that if Penn State loses, it’ll hurt and drop them from the national rankings but they have enough quality conference opponents that if they take care of business against Ohio State and Michigan, they’ll once again be highly ranked.
The other argument that fans bring up is the impact it could have in recruiting. While that’s a nice argument to make, it’s not true. No recruit that’s considering both Pitt and Penn State will make his decision based on the winner of the game.
In Pitt’s case, the way they’ll catch the eyes of highly rated recruits is to win the ACC Coastal Division like they did last year. If they were to beat Penn State and then have terrible conference season, that Penn State win will mean nothing.
Although a lot of people associated with the Pitt program want to make this game out to be the Super Bowl, the only thing that Pitt is playing for on Saturday is pride and national respect.
I mention national respect because even by winning in State College, it won’t change the opinion of anyone associated with Penn State has towards Pitt football. Right or wrong, Penn State football feels that Pitt is inferior to them and that an upset win won’t change that.
Whether it’s playing in the Big Ten Conference, whether it’s because no matter the opponent they pack Beaver Stadium every single Saturday or because of the historical super egos of their head coaches, Penn State believes that they are and have always been a better program than Pitt.
During the high points of this rivalry, both of these teams were ranked in the Top 10 and competing for a national championship, or at the very least a major bowl bid. Due to conference realignment and the mediocrity of the Pitt program, those times are distant memories.
Although many on the Pitt side hate hearing it, James Franklin is right when he says that Pitt is just another game on the Nittany Lions schedule.
Saying that, Pat Narduzzi isn’t wrong when he plays up the meaning of this game for his program. While I don’t believe it means much, it isn’t entirely meaningless for Pitt.
Narduzzi’s goal when taking over Pitt was to turn them into a program that could compete against the best programs in football and going into Happy Valley and beating a ranked Penn State team would be a sign to his current players, future players and fans that they’re in the process of doing that.
While it would be nice to say it’s for more and to overhype things, Pitt is playing for two things on Saturday: self respect and to show that the program is on the road to national respectability.
The odds makers aren’t giving Pitt much of a chance by installing them as 17-point underdogs and that’s just another sign of the lack of respect Pitt has nationally.
The question now is will the odds makers be right or will Pitt show the country and people in State College that Pitt football is on the rebound.
For likely the last time for awhile, we’ll see Pitt battle Penn State and while it’s not what it once was, let’s enjoy it.