Saturday, January 2, 2010

Hail to Pitt (Football)! Hail to Pitt (Basketball)!

Pittsburgh's professional sporting clubs are a mixed bag -- the Penguins are cruising toward playoffs, the Steelers chewing through fingernails instead of their schedule, the Pirates primed for yet another season of planned acquiesence -- but the Pitt Panthers have been consistent winners.

The football Panthers -- after losing a spot in the Sugar Bowl by a single point against Cincinnati -- earned a tenth win, against a solid North Carolina team, in a bowl at Charlotte. More important, Pitt's recruiting has created enough breadth and depth to avoid overburdening a few standouts (while, like relying on role players to be pillars, had become Pitt's custom). Previous Panther teams might have relied on Mike Shanahan and Ray Graham as workhorses; this year's roster enabled them to complement Jonathan Baldwin and Dion Lewis, and profitably cast Bill Stull as a facilitator rather than a linchpin. The Panthers had both all-conference tight ends and a stacked defensive line. Pitt's defensive weaknesses off the line were noticeable primarily because the Panthers were consistently strong elsewhere. Dave Wannestadt and his staff have pointed Pitt in a proper direction.

The basketball Panthers -- after losing two players to the NBA -- have surprised most observers with two wins to start their conference schedule. Defeating the fifth-ranked and unbeaten Orange in Syracuse suggests these Panthers could turn a rebuilding year into a successful season, despite a lack of dependable scorers in a brutal league. If this is what a down season looks like in Oakland, the Pitt basketball program is solid.

West Virginia hurt Big East football (but not as much as Cincinnati did) by stumbling against lackluster Florida State, but Penn State outlasted Louisiana State, its eleventh win in a top-ten season. Penn State's schedule and season resembled Pitt's -- too many wins against weaklings, losses against the few tough opponents. A Pitt-Penn State game would have been preferable to Penn State's Syracuse or Eastern Illinois game, or to Pitt's North Carolina State or Buffalo game.


Burgher Jon said...

"A Pitt-Penn State game would have been preferable to Penn State's Syracuse or Eastern Illinois game, or to Pitt's North Carolina State or Buffalo game."

A Penn State home game against Pitt would have been preferable to Eastern Illinois or Syracuse. However, Syracuse was prominent when we scheduled the game against them and Eastern Illonois didn't ask for a home game. It's great that Pitt got their first 10 win season of my lifetime (a stretch in which Penn State has won 2 national championships, 3 conference titles, 2 undefeated seasons and 11 ten win seasons). However, Penn State is raising ticket prices and Pitt can't sell out a stadium half the size of Penn State's but twice a season. Until the crowds balance out look for PSU to continue to insist on 2-1 or 3-1 and look for Pitt to continue to (foolishly) turn them down.

Infinonymous said...

During my lifetime, Penn State has won two national titles, Pitt one; all three titles are more than 20 years old. Just before Penn State won in 1982 (with Pitt in the top 10), Pitt finished second in the nation in consecutive seasons.

More recently (since 2000), Penn State has had a marginally better football program; the rankings difference is not pronounced. It has attempted to raise prices; whether those increases stick is undetermined. Even if they do, scheduling Pitt would be no less financially attractive than scheduling Syracuse.

One angle that might have been overlooked: basketball. Pitt has one of the stronger programs in the nation. Penn State could reasonably request a home-and-home arrangement in basketball in conjunction with a football series. That might enable Penn State to change the 30-year condition in which matching the Nits' varsity against Pitt's scout team presents a sporting proposition.