Colin Dunlap: All The Rivalries Around Here Are Gone
This weekend of college football was one heck of a ride.
There was that incredible field goal return that capped off the Iron Bowl and saw Auburn upset visiting Alabama.
There were fisticuffs in Ann Arbor in a blockbuster wherein Ohio State squeezed out a one-point win against Michigan when the Wolverines decided to attempt a two-point conversion — and try to win it — at the bitter end.
Out West, UCLA played against in-city rival USC and Arizona State clashed with in-state foe Arizona.
Clemson and South Carolina got together, Florida and Florida State quarreled, as did Oregon and Oregon State and Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
And, to get technical with this rivalry stuff, Georgia Tech played Georgia and Virginia Tech tussled with Virginia.
What a grand time; nothing breeds excitement like old-fashioned animosity.
Too bad none of it was felt around here.
I mean, not much in the way of Hatfield-McCoy stuff can be drummed up when Pitt plays Miami, Penn State squares off with Wisconsin and West Virginia wrangles with Iowa State.
If this past weekend forced you as a college football fan around here to do anything — especially if you’re a Pitt fan — it should have forced you to harken back to the past. It truly was a better time, even if only on Thanksgiving weekend.
Now, there’s not a lot of negative that can be extracted from Pitt jumping from the Big East into the Atlantic Coast Conference. It is something the school had to do, something it should vehemently be applauded for doing.
It did — at least selfishly for fans — leave a hole, however. Pitt has no true geographic rival.
And really, neither does Penn State in the Big Ten or, especially, West Virginia in the Big 12.
Wouldn’t it have been great to see Pitt play Penn State or West Virginia on the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving, while we were all overdosing on tryptophan, family and football?
That’s how it used to be. That’s what I was thinking about as all that rivalry craziness was happening across this country this weekend.
Pitt and Penn State haven’t played since 2000, but they first played in 1893 and played every year from 1900-1931 and then uninterrupted from 1935 until 1992. Many times it was on Thanksgiving weekend.
Conference affiliations and a commonly-held theory that former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had a longstanding grudge against Pitt forced the rivalry to go away.
The conflict between the two Pennsylvania teams will come back for a four-game showcase of sorts, from 2016 to 2019, but those games will be in September, not during the ultra-exciting rivalry weekend.
What a shame.
Same with the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia not being an option on Thanksgiving weekend.
The teams first met in 1895, last met in 2011 and played 104 times.
Who can forget what happened in the 100th meeting, when in 2007 Pitt stunned a probably-would-have-played-in-the-title-game West Virginia team, 13-9?
With the schools separated by just 75 miles, it was a rivalry that was as bitter as any — and after the mid-90s became a fixture on Thanksgiving weekend.
It was the kind of enmity we all wanted to see.
When it was announced that Pitt and Penn State would resume playing again — albeit for just those four seasons — the importance of the once-mighty rivalry was not lost on Nittany Lions coach Bill O’Brien.
Back in December of 2012, when the announcement came down, O’Brien said:
“Regional rivalries in college football are special. I have been involved in a few as a coach. Penn State versus Pitt is a rivalry rich with history and tradition. … we are looking forward to competing against them on the gridiron.”
And many fans and alumni are looking forward to it as well.
Wouldn’t it be nice if our region still had a game like this every Thanksgiving weekend?
After watching all those other games this weekend, feels to me like there’s something big missing.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.