I’m sure many of you have seen the stories. That Penn State’s new coach expressed a desire to reestablish the Pitt-Penn State series.
Penn State and Pitt last played Sept. 16, 2000, when the Panthers beat the Nittany Lions, 12-0, at Three Rivers Stadium.
“I would love to see that game played on an annual basis,” O’Brien told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in a story published Saturday. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for (Pitt coach) Paul Chryst and their program, and that’s a great rivalry.
“For the fans of Pennsylvania to be able to see that game every year, I think that’s pretty neat.”
From the earliest days of this blog, I have maintained that Pitt-Penn State would resume some time after Paterno not only retired, but had passed away.
Now we have the home-and-home coming up in 2016, and it seemed obvious that there would be some discussions as it got closer to extending it. Especially since by then no one expected Paterno would still be coaching.
Like most of you, I greeted the report with a fair amount of optimism and excitement at the idea of it returning to the annual game. That which I grew up on and should have been an annual battle within my family.
Thinking more about it, I just don’t know if this will happen. For many reasons.
Issue 1: O’Brien answered a question while doing the junket across the state. He only said that he would like it to happen. Hell, Paterno would often say as much. He’d then qualify it with all the problems, preconditions (2-for-1) and reasons why it couldn’t. Wanting it to happen is not the same as making it happen.
Issue 2: How long will O’Brien actually be at PSU? The series to become an annual event wouldn’t be until 2018 at the earliest. That’s still 6-years away. Does anyone want to put money down on the guy following Paterno and a NFL guy to boot will still be there? Since football scheduling is done so far in advance because of the limited games, the Athletic Director at a school usually has more say over the scheduling than the football coach. Unlike in basketball. Obviously Penn State was different with Paterno, but O’Brien doesn’t get that kind of clout at this time.
Issue 3: Room on the schedule. By next year, Pitt will only have 3 non-con games per year to schedule. Pitt has one spot almost continually locked up with the Notre Dame series. As appealing an idea for us to have PSU and ND as annual non-cons, it means Pitt has to schedule a cupcake home game for that 3d non-con. A 9-game conference slate and a schedule with PSU and ND would mean every other year, Pitt would only have 6 home games (4 conference and 2 non-con).
Issue 4: Lack of schedule variety. This ties into issue 3. Want to see Pitt play another major-conference foe occasionally? Not going to happen. No way Pitt can. Forget about an absolute killer schedule. Playing any good team outside the conference means home-and-home. Which means giving up another home game — and the money.
Additionally, there are a couple of unknown variables — both pro and con that can effect this possibility. The first is expansiopocolypse. If it continues, and ND finally surrenders their independence, then one way or another the ND series changes. If the Irish were to got ACC, it frees up the non-con spot on the schedule as ND becomes a conference game (and man, what a battle that would cause in the ACC over scheduling and which division gets ND).
If ND went to the Big 10, the series might also become much more sporadic. Assuming ND keeps USC and Navy, there may suddenly be no room to keep Pitt. Bad for Pitt-ND, but also freeing the spot for Pitt-PSU.
The other unknown is the coming playoff. We know it will be a 4-team situation, but the method is still up for debate. Will it be only on polls? How does winning the conference come into play? Will overall strength of schedule play much of a role? Lots of unknowns that we don’t know, It will be something to consider when planning non-cons.
So, while I welcome O’Brien’s statements, I don’t know how much it matters.