Pitt vs. Penn State? Just a BCS pipe dream

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Were all of the still-to-be-determined ingredients of still another highly ridiculous college football season mashed into a colossal metaphorical meatball, and were that colossal metaphorical meatball forced through the dubiously hygienic grinder of Bowl Championship Series politics, it is possible -- according to published reports -- that among the tastier byproducts would be a Fiesta Bowl that reunites ancient Keystone rivals Pitt and Penn State.

Midstate journalist/scientists working separately came up with this plausible scenario over the weekend, and when you look at it, the only real question that leaps off the page is: Isn't it a shame they were too late for this year's Nobel prizes.

Not only were David Jones of Harrisburg's Patriot-News and Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror able to make some sense of the BCS At-Large Eligibility and Selection Procedures, but they went on to describe how those procedures might work so that even I could understand it. Almost.

I know, Nobels for both, 2010.

The formula for concluding that Pitt and Penn State will play football for the first time in nearly 10 years on Jan. 4 in Arizona is among the most combustible in all of organic chemistry, with any of five billion variable microscopic irritants capable of sending it down in flames, like if either team were to lose between now and Dec. 6, unless it's Notre Dame.

(The phrase "unless it's Notre Dame," interestingly enough, has almost universal application, dating to the Old Testament.)

Pitt could lose Nov. 14 to Notre Dame without shorting out this discussion, but it's simpler to assume (assumption being the philosophical bedrock of the entire formula), that Pitt and Penn State win out, or run the table, although neither is preferable to just running out and winning the table.

As I understand it, which I very likely do not, the formula is essentially this:

Pitt and Penn State win out, as does Iowa, putting Iowa in the Rose Bowl instead of Penn State, which lost to Iowa. Texas wins out, taking itself out of the Big 12's slot in the Fiesta Bowl and into the national championship game, which will be played in the Rose Bowl but will not be the Rose Bowl. Florida or Alabama win out, removing one from the Southeast Conference's slot in the Sugar Bowl and inserting it into the national championship game against Texas in the Rose Bowl that's not the Rose Bowl.

If, say, Florida is ranked No. 1 and wins the SEC, and Texas is ranked No. 2 and wins the Big 12, then the Sugar Bowl, because it lost a higher-rated team, picks first. Followed by the Fiesta and then the Orange Bowl, which has a tie-in to take the ACC champion. If Texas is No. 1 and Florida No. 2, then the Fiesta has first pick, followed by the Sugar. The Orange is third because the ACC champion likely would not be in the title game.

To arrive at this point, you are here cautioned, something like 400 college football games still have to be played, with no results inflaming an extremely flammable process.

But here's where it gets tricky.


The Sugar, if it picks first, likely would take Alabama, assuming it loses an SEC title game to Florida. The Fiesta would be next, as long as Florida stays as No. 1 in the BCS.

Only Penn State's long and cozy history with the Fiesta (and, OK, its 11-1 record and highly portable fan base) are evidence that the Fiesta will pick the Lions, and even then, the Orange Bowl, which gets the next pick, might well pluck Pitt to match against its ACC champion, eliminating the remote possibility of a Pitt-Penn State duel in the Valley of the Sun (indoors of course).

What's instructive about all of this is not so much that it's virtually impossible, but it is the best example yet of the ways in which we're willing to torture credulity just to float hope. Virtually impossible as it clearly is, it's the only possible way for the schools to play.

Pitt-Penn State, once a college football staple that traversed an American century, remains a fantasy stuck in Triple O Limbo.

Never heard of the Triple O? How could you have? I just made it up.

Why don't Pitt and Penn State play football?

Triple O -- Owing to Octogenarian Obstinance.

Space does not permit (nor does strength, frankly) still another poke through the ashes of Joe Paterno's unfortunate posture on the Pitt series. That history is written, with all its culpabilities where they ought to be. A decade with no Pitt-Penn State game has damaged both programs and soured the football nectar of autumn in every city, village, nook, cranny and Nanty Glo in Pennsylvania. Even bad seasons by one or both teams once were saved by a season-ending collision on whatever stage was available. Even today, kids in Pennsylvania still do not grow up dreaming of helping Pitt beat Cincinnati for the Big East title, or leading Penn State past Michigan State.

Pitt-Penn State was the stuff of such dreams, of such passions.

Now it's a fantasy that exists somewhere in the depths of BCS minutia, meaning it's all but down in flames forever.

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com .


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