ACC-bound Pitt finds itself without natural football rivals
The ACC offers Pitt many benefits that the Big East lacked. But for its first few years in the new conference — maybe longer — Pitt will have no natural rivals in football.
No teams for fans to hate. No annual games against Notre Dame. No more mocking the opponent by singing its state song, as Pitt players did in 2007 after famously upsetting West Virginia, 13-9.
You want a rival, Pitt fans? Wait until Penn State emerges from its NCAA sanctions in 2016. It will be only 16 years between games.
Rivalries come and go in college football — mostly they disappear after the recent wave of conference realignments — and Pitt coach Paul Chryst need look no further than the dinner table for proof.
“I know the teams my son hates are not the teams I hated when my dad was coaching,” he said.
Danny Chryst grew up in the midst of a significant Big Ten rivalry between Wisconsin and Michigan State. His dad is a former Wisconsin quarterback and offensive coordinator.
Wisconsin's true rival is Minnesota. To the winner goes the Paul Bunyan axe, but the rivalry lost some its appeal under the weight of Wisconsin's dominance (victories in 16 of the past 18 games).
When Wisconsin and Michigan State meet, it's usually a battle between Big Ten heavyweights, often with a championship or national prestige at stake.
“My son can't stand Michigan State, because those games mattered for him,” Chryst said. “That is the rivalry (now).”
A rivalry doesn't have to emerge from a specific opponent. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said rivals appear weekly on his schedule.
“When you only have 12 games and you work hard for those 12, it doesn't matter who the name is, whether it's Pitt or East Bogo Community College,” he said. “It's big, and people want to win. That's why they have that big, old scoreboard hanging up. And they keep making it bigger and bigger and bigger to remind me that it matters.”
Rivalries can develop between unlikely opponents. Clemson and Boston College are separated by 990 miles, but they play for the O'Rourke-McFadden Trophy, named after players from the schools' leather helmet days. The trophy was created in 2008 by the Boston College Gridiron Club, whose members liked traveling to Clemson after BC joined the ACC in 2005. Likewise, Clemson fans enjoyed the trip to Boston.
The teams have met only 22 times, with Clemson holding an 11-9-2 edge, but they played in the 1940 Cotton Bowl and there were spirited games when Doug Flutie was the Boston College quarterback. In the three games immediately prior to the trophy's inception, BC won all three — in overtime, double overtime and by three points. That's how you build a rivalry.
Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski hopes for a rivalry with Pitt, despite the distance. After all, the teams did play in back-to-back Sugar and Gator Bowls in 1955-56. Since then, there have been two games in the series. Perhaps when they meet Nov. 2 in Atlanta, the game will be memorable, someone will win by a field goal and a rivalry will be born.
“Certain schools, not by design or pre-selection, will develop rivalries just because the competition sort of works,” Bobinski said. “I don't think you can predict that moving forward. Those things will naturally evolve.”
Although it's a nonconference game, Pitt/Penn State could gain new life, with the teams scheduled to play four years in a row from 2016-19. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson and PSU coach Bill O'Brien are in favor of even more games.
It's probably unlikely, however, that Pitt will find an ACC rival such as Penn State or West Virginia in the near future.
“Pitt and West Virginia came over time and were warranted. There were some great games,” said Chryst, who was involved in the 1989-90 Backyard Brawls as a WVU graduate assistant.
Pitt and Virginia Tech played for 11 consecutive seasons from 1993-2003 — the only games in the series until last year — with the Panthers defeating some ranked Hokie teams in thrilling fashion. The series will live, with the Coastal Division teams playing each other annually.
But will they be rivals?
“If we can put ourselves to (Virginia Tech's) level,” said Chryst, who beat the then-No. 13 Hokies, 35-17, last year at Heinz Field. “I don't know if Virginia and Virginia Tech supersedes something like that.”
That's the thin line colleges must walk: Keeping up with conference commitments, playing enough home games to satisfy financial responsibilities and maintaining ties to the traditional past.
“We will try to honor and protect (the old rivalries),” Chryst said. “But we are excited about where we are going.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pitt sophomore Coles leaves football team
- Pitt, Penn State face competition for ticket sales
- Pitt notebook: No surprises as Panthers settle on starting O-line
- Pitt assistant strength coach’s battle with cancer inspires players
- Pitt trying to keep star playmaker Boyd fresh for the season opener
- Pitt notebook: Render proving to be Donald-esque on defense