(POV Roundtable Call-In tonight at 8:00, please call-in to debate Pitt Football)
This last season our Panthers had two of the most rewarding and hard-fought games that a Pitt team has had to play in any one season when we first beat Penn State’s Nittany Lions in Heinz Field by a score of 42-39. Then only eight weeks later, limping along at 5 wins and 4 losses, we went down into Clemson’s Death Valley and beat their Tigers in a wild and wonderful heart-attack finish that found us on top 43-42 and began a nice three game winning streak for us.
It also shot Pitt into the national consciousness in a quick and bright-light way as the Tigers were unbeaten and headed for the NCAA playoffs, which they eventually won for the 2016 season NCAA championship.
Of course the Pitt – Penn State matches are an age-old rivalry that has been in existence since 1983 when we Panthers traveled to Penn State’s cow-dung covered field and began what was, in time, to become one of the greatest rivalries in college football.
It was played (fought) for school pride and for bragging rights and for personal satisfaction in that you could turn to your neighbor, who may well have been a PSU grad, and thumb your nose at him if we won that year. Of course he, in turn, could do the same if his Nittany Lions won. This has been the case for 97 seasons of playing each other.
For our younger readers it is almost impossible to explain what this series has meant to the students, alumni and fans who have gone before you at Pitt. It wasn’t just a game; it was THE game and it was played out on a national stage year after year. As a matter of fact for a long period of time it was the highlighted college football game during Thanksgiving week.
Back in the old days most of the Pitt-PSU games were the determiner as to who would hold the coveted Lambert Trophy which represented the winningest team in the East… back when the East had the best college football around. Apparently the Lambert Award is still in existence (who knew?) because – in another stick in the eye to Pitt – it was awarded to Penn State again in 2016…
This pisses me off a bit folks – here we beat PSU last season and still they win the thing. Here is a list of the Lambert winners for the last decade.
The only opponent we played more than PSU was our nemesis in the Backyard Brawl we had in going against the Mountaineers from West Virginia which we suited up 104 times to slug it out with them.
But it has always been “Beat Penn State!!” first and foremost for us fans. The date of the PSU games were always heavily circled on both those old Girlie pin-up calendars in grimy Pittsburgh steel mill break rooms and on calendars tacked up on old hay barn walls in Central Pennsylvania.
It was the ultimate feel good win when we could get it and a heartbreaking loss if we couldn’t. But now sitting back and looking at our recent victory over PSU I have to wonder just what lasting impact did, or will, it really have in the short-term for our football program these days.
I say ‘short-term‘ because we play them again in just five months and there will be the outcome of that game to celebrate or lament. So looking at the win over Penn State in September of last year let’s ask ourselves what was the positive benefit for the Pitt football program itself?
The very first things that come to mind are those highly emotional feelings I listed above. They are real, they are valid and they are what college football is all about. But the truth is college football runs on many things and strong emotion is just one of them. There has to have been some other benefits also, right?
Another positive thing that comes to a Pitt fan’s mind then is the belief in that win would give us a definite recruiting edge for local PA recruits, specifically western PA recruits, over PSU. After all – wouldn’t you rather go to the school that was the better of the two on the actual field of play? However, I’m not sure at all it works that way.
First off the recruits aren’t paying attention to things like this just in their senior year of high school – most have been contacted and hounded by the two schools’ recruiters as early as their sophomore year by the time the 2016 game rolled around.
In my Internet travels through the recruiting sites’ old records I don’t see a clear indication of a Pitt win being much of a deciding factor in where the better and more highly ranked recruits chose to attend for their undergraduate years. Therefore I think that old saw about beating your rival leads to better results in head to head recruiting against them is pretty much a college football myth. Maybe in other parts of the country it holds true, but in WPA I do wonder.
For instance, between that PSU win in September and the Class of 2017’s LOI Day we had 10 commitments for an average of 3.2 stars with zero of those ten being from PA. No real impact right off the bat then.
But in that same time period Penn State had eight more 2017 commitments for an average of 3.9 stars with two of those eight being from PA, including one 5* in DB Lamont Wade. Remember that a lot of us felt like Wade was an almost certain Panther after that win yet he went over to the Darkside to play Franklin-ball anyway.
Now there is good news in all this also as it shows that Narduzzi and Co. have expanded the Pitt recruiting base southward which is something he had to do to get speed and quality recruits. Granted we were looking more southward and outside of the local recruiting area back in 2015 also, but then again PSU has always recruited nationally.
IMO that win didn’t do anything specific for us in recruiting last year and probably won’t have any impact this season either after we beat them by seven points in Happy Valley. As of today the Nitters have these PA kids committed for their 2018 recruiting class:
God – I hate the way they recruit on the basis of their history alone. After all while Franklin has done well in his tenure but PSU recruits like this every freakin’ season no matter what it seems.
This season Pitt has one recruit in-hand so far; two star TE Jay Symonds from Massachusetts who didn’t have an offer from PSU and who probably didn’t care about that 2016 game at all. So there was no immediate boost from the PSU win to date… at least to my eyes .
Below are the last ten years of our two programs and where each ended up in Rivals.com’s national rankings when the LOI Day signing period was over. In addition I listed the 2002 recruiting class to show what impact Pitt’s 2000 season’s 12-0 win might have had… Rivals doesn’t go back to the year 2001 so you’ll have to imagine a bit.
As you see just two years after that 12-0 win they were solidly out-recruiting us again. But that is the benefit of a long and constant winning tradition they have had over the years.
We saw that writ large after the Sandusky scandal broke in 2011 and soon after NCAA recruiting sanctions were levied on their program. We had our own serious problems with head coaches and coaching staff turnover during the years after 2011 also, so that probably impacts our recruiting ranks also but only in 2012 and 2013 did we best them.
We’ll have to keep a close eye on the head-to-head battles between us and the Nitters as this year’s recruiting season plays out. It is still early days as we have 10 months to go before the 2018 class is signed on. But again, I wonder just how often Pitt and Penn State truly go head to head with each other for specific recruits – I bet it is actually less than we fans think it is.
What I do believe though is that televised and highly media covered win over Penn State gives us is more credibility to recruits who are on the fence with other programs and therefore that win gave us a lift overall.
You just know both the PSU win and then certainly the Clemson win will factor in and be strongly emphasized when our recruiters sit down with prospective future Panthers. Beating two of the Top seven teams – #1 and #7 respectively – shows that we can beat any team at any given time and recruits want to win on a grand stage.
But perhaps the best and hopefully longest lasting effect that win over PSU did was instill in our returning players a true feeling of what this rivalry used to be like and just how important it has been to the fans and the university as a whole. It is back in full swing now and they themselves are the contributing factor as to the outcomes of the games.
I don’t think a loss would have done any of that for the main reason it would have left a negative and totally unexciting pall over the local and national media and the university.
But we won (yeah us!!) and that is now the standard which these new Panthers have to meet each and every year we play PSU up until 2019. We’ll see what happens against in State College on Set. 9th. After we win that one I’ll revisit this recruiting theory of mine to see if it is still valid given what we see in commitments afterward.
But I do know one thing now for certain – that Pitt vs Penn State is sure as hell a true living and breathing rivalry and not a dead one as I thought it was on the day before we played them last year.
How soon I forgot the fundamentals of Pitt football…Penn State games matter.
Note: Tuesday night’s Roundtable Call-in will be back on its regularly scheduled time at 8:00 pm this evening. Here are the instructions again (remember that I’ll have to post the phone call’s ‘unique code’ that I won’t get until I actually start the meeting at 7:45 or so in a comment to this article) – keep your eyes peeled.
FOR TONIGHT’S ROUNDTABLE CALL-IN…
Alright guys – we’ll take the first 3 or 4 callers starting at 8:00 pm (make it about 5 minutes early to login.)
Here is the info to get into the Bluejeans Roundtable meeting for 4/11/17; 07:30 pm – 09:00 pm…
Enter audio code on your phone
XXXXXXX – (this changes for each meeting – I’ll have the real one in a comment around 7:45 tonight.)
SEE YOU AT AROUND 7:45 OR SO….