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Pitt Football Shares Storied History with New ACC Members, Cal, Stanford and SMU



SMU ACC football. Pitt football

Pitt football will have three new conference opponents starting next season, as the ACC announced the additions of Pac-12 members Cal and Stanford and SMU on Friday. 

The three schools that will now join the conference in 2024 are programs that Pitt has played before, but mostly long ago. The history shared between these programs features some great games that most Pitt football fans now have either never heard of, or only in passing.

Pitt’s first game against Stanford is one of the most remarkable in program history. They chose to travel to Stanford for a holiday trip in a match on Dec. 30, 1922. Since airplanes were not featured as a part of travel yet, Pitt had to travel the entire length by train, making it a 6,000-mile round trip.

They left from Pittsburgh on Dec. 21 at 9 p.m. heading to the west coast, making it to Chicago, Ill. the next morning and eating breakfast at the famous La Salle hotel. The Panthers then left the city mid-day to go to travel four Hours to Savanna. Ill. and participated in a short work out. They then stopped in North Platte, Neb. and Cheyenne, Wyo. for more workouts and then another one at 6:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve in Ogden, Utah.

Pitt would eventually make it to San Francisco, where they enjoyed a sight-seeing tour, and also a turkey dinner and a show at the Fairmount hotel. They practiced the next three days prior to the game to prepare for the opening matchup.

One more important aspect to the game came with the head coaches. Pitt head coach Pop Warner chose to accept the Stanford job prior to the 1922 season.

He didn’t leave Pitt football immediately. deciding to honor his contract and serve as head coach the final two seasons. In his place, he sent assistant coaches in freshman football and varsity basketball coach Andy Kerr to take over the Stanford head coaching job and Claude Thornhill to work as Kerr’s assistant. Warner would also act as a supervisor for Stanford those two seasons, while Pitt head coach.

The Panthers took on Stanford and got out to a 10-0 lead in the first half, thanks to a three-yard rush from All-American Orville Hewitt and a 20-yard field goal from Frank Williams in the second quarter. A 31-yard touchdown pass from John Anderson to All-American halfback Will Flanagan increased the Panthers lead to 16-0 in the fourth quarter. Stanford only got one touchdown to give the Panthers a 16-7 victory in their first ever game on the west coast.

Pitt would take on Stanford twice more under legendary head coach Jock Sutherland. They faced off in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 1928, in a staunch, defensive battle that Stanford came out victorious, 7-6, under Warner. Two touchdowns came on fumbles, but Pitt failed to convert the extra point, leading to the loss.

The Panthers got revenge in 1932, defeating the Indians at Pitt Stadium 7-0. All-American halfback Warren Heller scored a two-yard rushing touchdown, off a drive that started at the Stanford 30-yard line after a poor punt. The final regular season matchup between both schools saw Sutherland defeat Warner in his final game was Indians head coach.

Both teams didn’t face each other for more than 86 years until the 2018 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. Despite the improvements in modern offenses in football, neither team had success on that side of the ball.

Pitt took a 10-7 lead into halftime, after a 29-yard field goal from Alex Kessman and a 6-yard rushing touchdown from Darrin Hall. Kessman improved the lead to 13-7 in the fourth, but a touchdown in the fourth quarter off a fumble by the Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello to running back Cameron Scarlett gave them the advantage. Pitt, with former offensive coordinator Shawn Watson in his final game failed to score and lost 14-13.

Cal, Stanford’s counterpart, is a team Pitt didn’t play until the middle of the 20th century, but they both faced off five times over 12 seasons. The two teams faced off in a home-and-away, with Pitt winning the first matchup, 27-7, at Pitt stadium in their 1955 home opener and Cal getting the 14-0 victory in 1956 in Berkeley, Calif.

The Panthers and Golden Bears faced off again in a home-and-away in the early 1960s. The Panthers won both matchups, including a close 26-24 victory on the road in 1962 and then a convincing, 35-15 victory at home in 1963.

Cal won the final matchup between both schools at home in 1966, 30-15, as Pitt had a terrible 1-9 record that season.

SMU and Pitt have also faced each other a few times in the middle part of the 20th century, but less so recently. Then ranked No. 1 Pitt dominated SMU, 34-7, at Pitt Stadium in 1938, Sutherland’s final season as head coach.

Pitt then took on SMU twice at Pitt Stadium under new head coach Charley Bowser in closer battles. They tied 7-7 in 1940 and then won 20-7 in Bowser’s final season as head coach.

The biggest game between both programs came on Jan. 1, 1983, in the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. No. 6 Pitt and No. 4 SMU fought a great defensive battle throughout the game and neither team did much offensively. Pitt took the lead on an Eric Schubert 43-yard field goal in the third quarter, but SMU would win the game 7-3, thanks to a Lance McIlhenny nine-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

SMU also dominated Pitt in their most recent matchup in the 2012 BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. In Paul Chryst’s first Bowl Game, SMU stopped Pitt offensively and easily won 28-6.

There are no current schedule updates on when Pitt football will play these three teams, but if history says anything, is that there will be some great moments to come from these matchups in the future.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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