Pitt fans love to hate to be the underdog.
That all I can think of when I look at our 2016 football schedule and see the Penn state game on Sept 10th … and I know that every Pitt fan has circled that date on his wall calendar also just as I have.
I read, talk and listen to Pitt fans every day who feel that the season will be a loss if the Nittany Lions come into Heinz Field and walk out with a win that afternoon. And I have to ask “Why?”
I truly believe the one thing Narduzzi has to do right off the bat this season is drum into his kids’ heads that the PSU game is not the most important game of the season. I know that sounds sacrilegious and that fans don’t want to hear it or think that way but it isn’t. At ground truth it is an out of conference game that would be great to win for old-time sake.
The only people who believe it isn’t just that – who think the PSU game is the end all be all – are the Pitt fans who are old enough to really understand the old antagonism. I say old because it Pitt vs Penn State rivalry is pretty much dead and buried regardless of if we play them a few times in the future or not. The reality is that we hadn’t played them in 15 years and that is a lifetime in college football.
This administration has zero ties to the old rivalry, neither does this HC or his staff or any of the players. Narduzzi doesn’t really look at PSU in any other way but as a hired hand thinking that “Boy, the fans really want this...” regardless of what he says in public – and you notice it is all the media talking about the PSU game with any emotion – not him so much.
I believe the extent of his public utterances on the series was done by tweeting “I think it should be played every year. It just makes sense to me.” That is because he knows that he needs to be concentrating on a conference championship above all else. Past rivalries are for the fans – he needs to beat the better ACC teams and create new conference rivalries that mean something at the end of the season.
If he doesn’t take that stance this year, goes all in for PSU and puts the team’s emotional eggs all in one game’s basket, and then PSU comes in and beats us, which is a valid 50/50 chance folks, then forget about the rest of the season being a championship one. He’s nowhere good enough of a HC yet to beat that depressed situation week after week.
Fans are, at this point in reading this, frothing at the mouth. I get that.
We have a lot of myths built up around these games but that is what they are, stories and legends passed down through generations that aren’t necessarily true, or put more succinctly, valid any longer.
One myth is about PA State dominance and the recruiting that follows.
But the truth is that winning that game never really had all that much to do about recruiting – the two completely different type of universities, the campuses, and style of football played did a lot more of that then a win did. I’ve followed Pitt for a long time and can’t remember one time that a recruit said that he picked either Pitt or PSU because one team beat the other that year.
I’ve heard a lot of recruits say they want to go to PSU and play in front of 110 thousand people and others say because they love the Pitt campus and education they’d get here, etc… or because of the great football traditions both schools have… but never because one team beat the other in any given year.
Besides, we recruit nationally now and need to worry more about beating out other Power Five schools for top shelf recruits rather than just the PA kids. We get our share and PSU get theirs and that isn’t going to change if we win on 9/10/16 or not. You want local recruits? Then win a lot more games than you lose, get conference championships and put kids in the NFL. That is way more effective and proven then beating one team on your schedule.
Another myth is the state bragging rights and path to a better bowl game – That’s the PA State dominance part. Which was true a long time ago when we were both Independents and fighting for the Lambert Trophy given to the best Eastern college team. That was a huge deal right up until we joined the Big East.
The fact is that now since both Pitt and PSU have been in conferences (Big Ten and now our ACC) the game became less and less important until it died out. You can point fingers at Joe Paterno for that if we want, I think that is a bit overarching, but the game just flat-out lost its meaning and importance to the world of college football.
Of course the fact that Pitt sucked at football for the 15 years before that last game in 2000 had heaps to do with its death also. We were 64-87 over those year. That is a 42% winning record averaging 4.3 wins per year… plus PSU beat eight out of 11 times over that span. Even then we didn’t play every year.
Decision makers determine the time had come to shut it down and we hated that.
We hated it because in so many years a win over PSU made everything else feel OK… even when we were getting the crap kicked out of us by every other team on that year’s schedule. In 1984, a disappointing year for sure for Pitt especially after the Marino years, we sat at 2-7-1 and rolled into State College and whipped them by a fine score of 31-11. Hey, all of a sudden we felt much better when the season ended. Let’s hope we don’t have to replicate that this season.
Back during the zenith of the rivalry It was a fun time to be a Pitt fan and yes, we loved the excitement of playing Penn State under any circumstances. But I remember well what it was like back in the 1960s and 70s when the two teams met. It was important but it also wasn’t the end of the world if we lost. It really wasn’t like that at all. Yeah, we fans (and our parents) drank a bit more that evening but it wasn’t that Big Deal, fan’s ego-driven, “Oh My God we lost the game!!” that it turned into later on.
And that I fear some are making it out to be now also.
So, to bring this forward, most importantly in my mind is that I’m worried that fans and alumni will turn south if we lose to Penn State this season. That somehow, because of our expectations of a win, the luster and excitement Narduzzi and Co. have generated with the program up to this point will dissipate because we lost one game.
We can’t afford to let that happen fellow fans. Why? Since that is just when he and the kids on the team will need us the most.
As a head coach Narduzzi hasn’t shown he can win anything except games we are supposed to win and I’m not sure he has the chops to pull out of a disappointing loss like that…yet. And it will become a major disappointment if he lets that singular game get blown so out of proportion in the clubhouse that it becomes the whole season to them. He needs to make those kids understand that while we want to win every game, and especially a fan’s favorite like PSU, the ultimate goal is bigger than just that one win.
He need to lead them through that big game win or lose. But especially if we lose.
I have heard many fans state with certainty that Narduzzi wouldn’t let a downward spiral happen if we lose to PSU and that ‘he gets kids up to play the hard games’. But we saw exactly the opposite in the latter half of 2016 when we lost four out of the last six games. We didn’t just get beaten in those four losses – we got soundly thumped. We had a valid shot at a very good season, that being 9-10 wins, and missed out on it four times.
Those last two games were truly horrible and we were woefully unprepared even with loads of time to get ready. I have to say that my jury is still out on exactly how good a HC Narduzzi is when it comes to actual playing of football. He does all the periphery stuff very well but the fact that he won one more game than Chryst did in 2014 doesn’t make me jump up and think he’s ready to be called a great HC by any means.
But he can rectify that by doing two things this season. First is to beat PSU and then keep winning conference games. That speaks for itself, and the ‘keep winning conference games’ is key there.
But more importantly in my eyes is that should we lose to PSU he gets the team right back on its feet to meet OK State, North Carolina and Marshall at full strength. Do not underestimate Marshall especially if we are stumbling through the schedule at that point.
That will be much easier to do if he keeps his players on an even keel the whole time and doesn’t put the burden of the fan’s expectations and the fan’s hatred of PSU onto the team’s shoulders and thus make the players responsible for that as their own.
Because it isn’t theirs. It is ours. It is our madness and importance we put on this PSU game. For the team it has to be one of 12 games to fight to win.
There will be a lot of pomp and circumstance on game day and I’m all for that and raring to go. I’ll be excited to be in the stands, or the press box depending on if I want to drink beer or not, and I’ll cheer our guys on like crazy because I want us to beat PSU too!
I want Pitt to beat PSU for old times sake. But for the future strength of the football program it is many, many times more important that we win an ACC Conference Championship as soon as possible. That is what is going to cement us as a team to be reckoned with in the ACC and thus in the eyes of college football… and that is what is going to open up the fertile recruiting grounds outside of PA.
Pat Narduzzi gets paid $2M a year to win championships, not single games, even if that game is Penn State. He is charged with pushing and pulling his players through three hard weeks of fall camp and then a three month, 12 game schedule to accomplish that goal. Not to pin his and his player’s hopes on one game. What we fans want and what he is paid to do are sometimes two different things.
He can do both of course,and I’m rooting for him to do so. I think he’s capable of championships here – if he keeps his eye on the real prize. But we fans can’t put all of our emotional eggs in one game basket and then fade away because what we wanted to happen didn’t. We need to be in this for the long haul just as the team does, regardless of what happens on Sept 10th.