Pitt and Penn State football facing challenges, changes
Pennsylvania college football was shaken up during the past year as both the University of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania State University went through major changes.
Pitt announced that it was leaving the Big East Conference to go with Syracuse University to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) starting next season, following in the footsteps of former Big East-turned-ACC schools Virginia Tech University, Miami University, and Boston College.
Pitt also has a new head coach, Paul Chryst, as Todd Graham left after only one season to become the head coach at Arizona State University.
Penn State has been dealing with the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, with longtime coach and face of the team Joe Paterno being dismissed and soon thereafter passing away from lung cancer.
New head coach Bill O’Brien has had to deal with harsh sanctions and player transfers as he tries to restore the Nittany Lions to their former glory. Unfortunately, both first-time head coaches have had poor starts to their tenures, as Pitt and Penn State have started the year 0–2.
Pitt football has been a shell of its former glory in recent years, going 7–5 and 6–6 the past two seasons. Even in the Big East, Pitt has had a hard time living up to expectations, and this year seems to be no different. The Panthers started off the year by getting upset 31–17 by the football championship school (formerly Division 1-AA), Youngstown State University.
Pitt’s schedule did not get any easier as they faced Cincinnati last Thursday in their annual Ohio River rivalry game. The Panthers wasted no time falling behind, giving up a 58-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game.
After their rough start, things only got worse, and Cincinnati eventually won 34–10. Pitt continued its struggles on both sides of the ball, as quarterback Tino Sunseri was sacked six times, threw one touchdown, and had one fumble while the defense gave up 464 yards and 19 first downs.
Meanwhile, Penn State’s season is one of change and turnover.
Along with a new head coach, the Nittany Lions also changed their uniforms by adding players’ names to the backs of the jerseys and blue ribbons to the back of the helmets as a symbol of support for victims of child sexual abuse.
However, these cosmetic changes did nothing to improve their playing, as the Nittany Lions let an 11-point halftime advantage slip away against Ohio and lost 24–14.
The on-field struggles did not go away as Penn State lost to Virginia Tech 17–16, following four missed field goals by kicker Sam Ficken.
The Nittany Lions’ defense looked in top form for most of the game, causing four turnovers, but the offense struggled and converted those chances into only three points.
Unfortunately, even the defense collapsed in crunch time as they gave up the winning 86-yard drive.
The mass exodus of players following the NCAA sanctions on Penn State football — including two key transfers, running back Silas Redd and kicker Anthony Fera — would have likely turned this heartbreaking loss into an easy win for the Nittany Lions.
Overall, the next few years are going to be rough for Pennsylvania college football fans.
Pitt is trying to redefine itself with a new conference next season and is on its third head coach in as many years.
The ACC will offer stiffer competition for the Panthers, but will hopefully offer a larger national spotlight and allow Pitt to increase its recruiting base and regain its former glory.
For Penn State, the road is not quite so easy. With a four-year bowl ban imposed as part of NCAA sanctions from the Sandusky scandal, the Nittany Lions will have trouble attracting top recruits with NFL aspirations.
There is hope, however, since many current players have chosen to stay with the team rather than transfer without penalty. Also, many recruits have kept their commitments.
Penn State fans are going to have to weather the rough seasons ahead with hopes that in four or five years, the Nittany Lions can return to the former glory that they had under Paterno.