Important to look to future
Nostalgia is very nice. I, for one, listen to nothing but 1980s music and still dress like it’s 1996, so I know plenty about getting stuck in the past.
The rivalry with Pitt is a huge part of Penn State’s past. And for a legion of Nittany Lion fans — older ones who grew up with the rivalry during its heyday in the 1970s and ’80s — the greatness of that rivalry will never be equaled.
But that bitter rivalry is long, long gone. And it’s not coming back.
If you’re a Penn State fan now, you need to be worried about one team every year. It’s Ohio State.
No, Penn State vs. Ohio State will never equal Michigan vs. Ohio State when it comes to rivalries. But for a long time now, the Lions have known that they cannot achieve their goals without getting through the Buckeyes, and that doesn’t seem likely to change for many years to come.
Penn State’s three most important wins of the past two decades have been over Ohio State (2005, ’08, ’16). Those all led to Big Ten championships and national prominence.
Last year’s stunning win over the Buckeyes marked the moment in time that PSU football was back from the sanctions. Honestly, I still can’t believe what we saw with the blocked field goal that was returned for a game-winning touchdown, and that play is one of the handful of greatest in Penn State history.
For many fans over the age of 50, the 48-14 trouncing of Dan Marino and Pitt in 1981 remains their favorite PSU memory. But we’re already on a second generation of fans who either weren’t alive or weren’t old enough to remember that game, and for many of these people, the Pitt series simply doesn’t carry much cachet at all.
That’s not to say the past isn’t important. Tradition is incredibly valuable in college football, and PSU has plenty of it.
But college football has changed dramatically since the 1980s. Penn State has changed dramatically since the 1980s. The Lions are now in the Big Ten, and while many people might have thought the program would enjoy the same kind of success it had for so long as an independent, that just has not been the case.
Nowadays, success for Penn State means beating Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the measuring stick. They are the powerhouse that must be defeated for the Lions to achieve their highest goals.
Pitt week, whenever we do get it, will always be fun. For one week.
How Penn State fares against Ohio State can determine success of the entire season. Or perhaps even multiple seasons, when you consider what last year’s win did for the Lions.
The past rivalry with Pitt was great. But the present and future rivalry with Ohio State could wind up being even better.
Giger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.