For years I have been stating that the University of Pittsburgh’s football program has held a place in the echelons of college football that was sort of like being in limbo. Setting all the excruciating concise details of that concept aside it basically means we had died and been on the verge of hell forever.
But that was a bit harsh, so I modified my thinking to us being akin to a long-range airship that never had clearance to either land safely nor soar above the clouds – sort of like being on a solar powered dirigible that just kept going around in circles for years no matter how hard the crew tried to make it do something different.
In plain English I feel the program is solidly ensconced in the bottom of the top half of the 128 D1 football teams in America. We hover between the 32-64 team rankings almost every week of every year we play football. Almost every week that is.
Some seasons we do rise above that – this year was one of them. Last year was also, at least for a while. But we never seem to be able to make that sustained push to get us into the Top 20 rankings on any sort of regular basis. This remains the case with numerous changes in head coaches, staff coaches, athletic Directors and Chancellors… no matter how good or bad they are; how well-liked or hated, it stays about the same.
Here is the last 12 years of Pitt football with the weekly AP polls listed:
Take special note as to the number of times we were ranked during the season as opposed to the end of the year. Seven times we were in the Top 25 during the playing weeks – only twice were we after the final game. Does that sound familiar? It should – it just happened over the last two years.
But this year we were poised to do something really good and let it slip away again. Now, people who know me from here or on the Blather or a long time ago on the message boards might be surprised to hear me say that – given my thoughts that an eight win season is about what Pitt is good for.
But things change year-to-year and during every week during the football season. And in this season I watched our kids come out and start scoring points like it was going out of style. After the Penn State game I thought to myself that this could be one of those magical seasons where dreams start to come true and we rise above our less-than lofty historical heights.
We put up 60 points in our first two games and that was with a James Conner who wasn’t in true form yet and with a lopsided emphasis on the running game anyway. I felt that once Peterman was allowed to start airing it out and Conner regained his beast mode then the sky would be the limit.
Unfortunately no one told Josh Conklin and the defense that. So we watched Pitt score points galore and then start to lose games – back to back against OK State and North Carolina where we gave up 81 points in two matches.
That started a trend where we were forced to have our offense maintain an almost unreasonable level of point production to win games because we allowed an unheard of amount of points at same time.
I put that there for a reason and not just to ruin your day. What we have seen lately is a bit of a resurgence in the program under Pat Narduzzi who was hired over the 2014-5 off-season to inject some desperately needed energy and excitement into the program. He’s done that so far although I think he’s supplemented it a little bit more with off-field tools (twitter, internet, videos, dog and pony shows) than he has on the field of play.
But his on the field accomplishments need to be given real credit also. Last year he broke through the seven win barrier by going 8-5; this season he replicated that record but had also sterling wins against our rival Penn State at home then against the eventual national Champs Clemson in Death Valley.
Let’s applaud him for that as that is something this program has needed in a big way.
But the fact of life in college ball though, at least on the national scale and with the national polls is a loud and strong “What have you done lately?” and with Pitt that meant our ending the season with a resounding thud in our bowl game.
If anyone on here thinks that Pinstripe bowl game and the 9th win it would have represented wasn’t important as any of the regular season games, even Clemson and Penn State, they are mistaken.
A 9th win would have put us in the Top 20 (not just Top 25 but Top 20) instead of “receiving votes” and it would have given us real and viable national recognition across the board.
We all saw how long that Clemson win stayed in the national conversation – less than a month because no one talked about it during the championship game run-up hardly at all. It wasn’t mentioned during the actual game once.
We fans love that upset win but it was truly old news to the rest of the college football world by the time the championship game rolled around. But had Pitt finished up around #19 or maybe even better, at the end of the season? That makes people sit up and take notice.
Going into that bowl game we were at #22 and were trending upward. A win would have given us something we have done only once in 14 years when we were #15 back in 2008, then again way back to 2002 when we were #19 at season’s end.
That bowl loss was a huge blow for us and to think it wasn’t, to minimize it as I’m hearing Pitt fans do now, is truly SOP in my opinion. It was a chance at real national recognition, better recruiting leverage and would have had us going into the off-season with three win’s momentum. All of which are vitally important to a program trying to shed it’s rather mediocre past reputation.
Instead all I hear about the bowl game now is that is was a ho-hum minor bowl, unimportant really and good only for the extra practices for the kids (seriously, I just read someone allude to that)… when nothing is farther from the truth.
It was a chance to be what fans have wanted us to be for years – nine wins again, with real and sustained progress shown in the win column. It would have been a break in our bowl game losing streak, a record which now stands at 1-5 over the last six bowls, and a chance to be more highly ranked than we have been in a long time. Not just at this season’s end but we would have been ranked above much higher going into next season also.
Funny thing this defeatist attitude. Everyone hates the phrase Same Old Pitt until we slip into it again, then they make a million excuses for why it happens. But it really isn’t the loss itself that is SOP – it is our fan’s post-game attitudes in that we’ll just gloss over the importance of the game itself and act like it was no big deal to, again, end a season on a definite down note.
After all, we’ve done it so many times before. Well, we get what we wish for, don’t we?
Walking into Heinz Field on the Saturday after our great Clemson win and seeing all those empty seats should have slapped me in the face with the truth behind Pitt football. No one really gives a crap except to talk about the program and the team.
Everything else on the majority of the fans’ part is just window dressing and blown smoke. Average? Sure, we’ll take it, as long as we don’t have to actually do anything to help make the program better… like actually sitting in seats for a game you already paid for. That would be a damned good start.