This game could be the first step in rekindling a long-storied rivalry, or it could simply end up being one in a four-game series between two in state schools. Either way, I’m excited as hell for Pitt vs Penn State. The buildup is over; game day is knocking on the door. Before I get to my final prediction, I want to talk about the impact that Pitt vs Penn State carries.
Pitt and Penn State pits the two biggest, most prominent college’s from the football crazed state of Pennsylvania against each other. This is a matchup that can and absolutely should attract a large crowd. Having a sure fire nationally televised game at least once every year, win or lose, is a helpful platform for both programs. The heavy media focus it draws will grant players and coaches more national exposure. You better believe that plays a factor in recruiting, because win or lose, both teams are out there in the public eye.
For this rivalry to recapture some of its former juice a highly competitive first contest with a little bad blood on the field between the two squads would go a long way. Even though the game will benefit both sides, I personally believe Pitt more desperately needs this game.
The University of Pittsburgh has a fantastic historic campus and a kickass college town carved out in charmingly packed Oakland, only 10 to 15 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. The geographic location of the city is definitely a buoy to the university as a whole, but it’s proximity is also a drawback of sorts when it comes to Pitt athletics. The presence of professional teams in three different sports – the Penguins, Pirates and of course the city’s beloved six-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers – means Pitt football is constantly competing for the city’s attention.
Penn State on the other hand, located in Happy Valley, as far as Pennsylvania goes, quite literally the dead middle of nowhere (Happy Valley contains a spot in the exact middle of the state). Happy Valley, better known as State College, is dominated, and generally in existence only because of Penn State University. Therefore, Penn State athletics is the sole subject of every person in and around the State College areas attention. That type of concentration creates a unique bond, yet conjures up an oddly uncomfortable level of hero worship, and fosters an us versus them, insiders versus outsiders mentality.
If Pitt wins this game, it will mean a lot more than 2-0. It will be a stepping stone toward a potentially great season, and a momentum lifting upswing for the team as a whole. A win over rival Penn State would be a notch in the belt for Pitt fans, faithful and alumni, a reason to believe again. A reason to rally behind the Panthers giving them the full support they deserve.
September 11 at Heinz Field is a just another notch in Penn State’s belt, too, it’s the last game standing between Happy Valley and Joe Paterno day. Their Super Bowl and biggest game of the year isn’t this Saturday, its next weekend when they honor the legendary Coach Paterno and his now reinstated 409 wins.
As for the game, neither team was terribly impressive in their opening day victories, though both teams took care of business defeating lesser opponents. In this matchup, I’m swayed by Pitt’s ability to run the ball on Penn State. Their offensive line had a poor showing against Villanova, but I think they knock the rust off in this one and live up to their pedigree.
The Panthers also hold the decided advantage at quarterback, where senior Nate Peterman is far more experienced than PSU’s redshirt sophomore Trace McSorley. I like Pitt’s defense and think they can contain Saquon Barkley for the most part. I have a feeling Jordan Whitehead or Ejuan Price steps up to force a big turnover or two. Qadree Henderson already proved dangerous in the return game last week, busting two punts loose for big gainers and running back the opening second half kick off 96 yards for a touchdown.
A young quarterback in a hostile road game for his third career start isn’t exactly the greatest situation for McSorley, if he’s not careful with the ball it could come back to bite the Nittany Lions. I think a solid ground game and steady quarterback play for the Panthers will be the difference. Along with a stout defense and Qadree Henderson’s impact on special teams it gives Pitt enough to get the job done.
PANTHERS 34 – PENN STATE 21.