We have a continuing argument on here about the impact of last year’s 31-26 bowl loss on Pitt’s national reputation after the 2016 season’s dust had settled. More importantly perhaps is what impact all of last season’s games, won and lost, had on the national media’s perception of our program going into this 2017 season.
But wait – let me backtrack a bit here. This isn’t about Pitt’s football program per se – but is about how the national media viewed the Pitt football team at the end of 2016, then again now and how the team might be gauged going into battle in September.
The people on the Southside I had conversations with when attending spring practices three months ago sure felt… no, they sure knew… that the bowl loss cost us dearly in perceptions and in the actual standings. By that I mean not only the final 2016 standings but our 2017 preseason rank (or lack thereof).
Here is the AP Final Top 25 list for last year:
I believe that had we won the bowl game combined with our big PSU rivalry win (which is a match-up of historical importance to the national media) and win over #3 ranked Clemson; both games nationally televised and both teams finishing high in the final rankings with one as champs, we would have been ranked between #13 and #17 at the end of the season.
What really made the media turn their backs on us was that not only did we, at 8-4 and #23, lose that game but we lost it to an average at best 6-6 Northwestern team. If you remember NW was 5-4 in conference play and 6-6 overall when we met them. They were 91st in rushing then gouged us for 250 on the ground… it just looked bad all around.
I spent a lot of that afternoon in conversation with some national writers up in the press box and can say the opinion they had of our team over the course of the game was poor. I state that because media opinions are part and parcel of what goes into the media perceptions of Pitt as a team at the end of the season.
Now I, and every Pitt fan, understand we had a lot of key injuries that helped us lose that match but that means nothing to the pundits who look only at outcomes, records and rankings. And this article is all about how those three things support the perceptions the media hold.
Now let’s shift gears to this upcoming 2017 season. Below is a partial preseason ranking list that is right along the lines of other preseason rankings I have found with some small differences here and there. I modified it as you’ll see.
This is from Athlon and I believe it shows just how much that bowl game loss hurt us. I haven’t listed all the 25 teams – just the ones who I think Pitt could have taken the place of had we ended up with that elusive 9 wins last year.
Look at that!
Starting at #9 Auburn and progressing down through 11 teams to #23 Miami we can see many spots that Pitt may well have been voted into had we finished 9-4 (including those PSU & Clemson wins).
I highlighted in red the teams I know we would have jumped over had we had nine wins and in blue the ones I believe we would have replaced. That is subjective on my part of course but in discussing this issue with others it is also very reasonable.
You may then ask:
Well, with wins over higher placed PSU and Clemson why didn’t Pitt sniff the rankings when the 8-5 (or worse) teams like Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Notre Dame and Oregon were listed?
I’ll say screw that and ask why the hell are teams like 4-8 Oregon, 4-8 Notre Dame and 5-7 Texas listed ahead of us? Well, because the national media looks at us and thinks we had just a pretty good season in D1 play when the all the dust settled last year.
Here’s the truth though; you may look at those teams on the list and say they are on there because of the strong conference they play in (SEC) or because of the program’s history (ND) but that is only part of it. The main reason is that six out of eight of those teams who played in bowls won their games. Like in many facets of life the last thing to have happened looms largest.
Plain and simple. Win a bowl game, get nine wins and you’ll get respect. Don’t do that and you won’t.
Now then, what is the actual impact to our program because of that bowl loss? We just saw what it did in the ’16 and ’17 rankings, but how about more concrete impacts now?
I truly believe that being on the outside looking in (most polls have us ranked between #35 – #42 going into this season) has markedly hurt us in this year’s recruiting class. Recruits and their parents – especially the blue chip recruits – want to play for a program that is progressing on the field, that has a shot at the better bowl games and finally, can get to the championship games.
We fans sure know that Pitt has progressed over the last two years, but recruits (and parents) are also “What have you done lately” types just like the national media is. So not ending up in the Top 25 in 2016, or being ranked going into ’17, hurts us when it comes to pointing to real evidence of progression and growth.
It sure isn’t a coincidence that the schools who end up with more wins and better rankings get the better (best) recruits. That is the way of the world in college ball and so far that hasn’t been us… and our recruiting has shown it in this year especially, but last year also was impacted by ’15’s loss to Navy.
We can say all we want about staffs recruiting for needs or hidden potentials or… you get the drift. But the bold truth is that the best recruits want to play for the best teams and if that team is local to them then all the better. When you have PSU with an 11-4 record, ranked 7th nationally and 7th going in now it makes it all that much harder for Pitt to get the local 4* and 5* guys.
Then when Pitt looks elsewhere for recruits we are looking at further recruiting grounds which have their own big and winning programs in the area. Remember that Pitt’s measure of success shouldn’t be us now compared to our past teams, but us now compared to the best Power Five programs of today.
In a lot of ways the national luster of Narduzzi’s hiring has worn off… as all new hires two years later tend to do unless they make a dramatic surge in the win column. The media expected more wins from Pat Narduzzi in ’16 then he had in ’15. When that didn’t happen, combined with the bowl loss when we were favored against a bland and mediocre NW team, it has had a real impact on how the media sees Pitt.
I think it rather strange that in our give and take discussions on here I’ve read that bowl losses don’t really matter or that the final season and preseason rankings don’t matter either. I say that is just plain wrong and rationalization at its finest .
There are goals set for every aspect of the Pitt football program and our Athletic Department. The AD is concerned with meeting the goal of having the football team best position itself by winning games, bowl games and thus making as much ticket money back to the program and the university. That boosts outside income like apparel sales and other revenue sources like alumni donations also.
The football staff is concerned with winning as much as possible to ensure that the program continues to get the best student/athlete recruits as is possible to thus grow stronger and win even more games.
The players’ goal is to see the fruits of their long and hard efforts pay off in better bowls selections with a more desirable post-regular season vacation like experience and hopefully a championship at the end of it. Win more and you have added individual national recognition which then may translate to a higher draft spot.
None of that happens unless the team puts itself in the best possible position to meet those goals – and that starts with the best preseason ranking it can get so that staying on the list and climbing upward is all that much easier.
But when you end the whole season with a bowl loss it is one step forward and two back for entering the next year. I really don’t think we can afford to lose three bowl games in Narduzzi’s first three years.