For head coach James Franklin, “Dominate The State” hangs in the balance. Almost as much as a small degree of respect does, from the old guard of a fan base that has cut him little-to-no slack. Win, and the word “legit” sneaks into the equation. Lose, and that non-existent hot seat suddenly gains a little steam, fair or not. If it’s a signature win you’re after, then look no further than this week’s matchup. A victory over Pitt is as “signature” as it gets for us so-called old timers, just short of W’s over the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Sparty. Then again, wins over that trio haven’t exactly been expected lately, as much as we all want them to be. A victory over Pitt IS expected, no matter the current situation.
For his part, FrankLion has remained stoic this week as he’s maintained his every-game-matters approach, while also acknowledging the significance of the renewal of what was once a yearly in-state battle. His Nittany Lions have followed suit as they have been cool, calm, and collected without providing any kind of bulletin board material for Pitt to take advantage of. His counterpart on the other hand, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, has been polar opposite. On Monday, he closed ranks, issued a gag order against the media and has treated the week as if they’re prepping for a National Championship. If you’re looking for some film to dissect from either squad don’t bother. It has been widely suspected that both squads kept their offense as vanilla as possible during last week’s opening weekend. Intentional or not, that only serves to create more intrigue and the perfect set-up for a game as widely anticipated as this one has been.
Of course, there’s an entire generation that has never had the pleasure of witnessing a Penn State-Pitt clash. The players themselves were mere toddler’s the last time these two met in 2000, a series-ending 12-0 victory for Pitt. Trace McSorley was all of three, as he now prepares to bring the Nittany Lions a sense of revenge that has been sixteen seasons in the making. The ghosts of Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green, and Dan Marino may not ring a bell with the current collection of students but still remain as vivid for those of us that saw these games in person and loathed the opposition. They were games that more times than not had national title implications and carried a Top-10 ranking for the winner. It was once a rivalry that rivaled the likes of Alabama-Auburn and Texas-Oklahoma. It was a Thanksgiving Weekend extravaganza when they met and there was no love lost between the two, an emotion that obviously still lingers almost two decades after the final whistle blew.
For the record, Penn State heads west into the Battle in the 'Burgh as the undisputed underdog. The odds are once again stacked against us. ESPN has Pitt labeled the victor across the board. Little do they know that it’s a role we have historically relished. Little do they know that a storm has been percolating in Happy Valley and is on the brink of brewing over. Little do they know that they have a WhiteOut headed in their direction and it’s led by a man who’s been quietly building for this very moment. It’s a game that the ghosts of rivalries past will have a keen eye on. In a game where both squads are scratching and clawing their way back into relevance, the Nittany Lions make the loudest statement of them all, 31-17.