Pitt's Steve Malinchak (7) and teammates celebrate their 13-9 upset win over No.2 West Virginia Dec. 1, 2007 in Morgantown, W.Va. In one night, a Pitt program that had trailed its neighbor for years caught up. Now, the Panthers are in the top 10 and looking for a big bowl, and West Virginia is trying to play the spoiler.
By Paul Zeise Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt's 13-9 upset victory against No. 2 West Virginia at the end of the 2007 regular season might be considered the game that changed the college football landscape.
A theory goes as follows: Had West Virginia won (and thus had gone to the national championship game instead of Louisiana State), Rich Rodriguez would still be the Mountaineers' coach, or, at the very least, would not have left for Michigan a few weeks after that game.
Instead, LSU coach Les Miles would have taken the Michigan job (hours before the Southeastern Conference championship game, he had to debunk a report that he had accepted the Michigan post) and his defensive coordinator, Bo Pelini, would be the head coach at LSU now and not at Nebraska. Several other dominoes would have fallen differently as well.
While there is no way to prove or disprove any of that, there is no disputing that game changed Pitt's fortunes in more ways than even its coach, Dave Wannstedt, could name.
Tonight, ninth-ranked Pitt (9-1, 5-0 Big East) and West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) will meet in the 102nd edition of the Backyard Brawl at the same venue -- Mountaineer Field -- where the Panthers, as 29-point underdogs, shocked the college football world two years ago.
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Wannstedt said that victory clearly was a turning point in his program. It is hard to argue that point when considering this: Pitt, under Wannstedt, was 15-19 leading up to that game, but 18-5 since.
"I think that win, when you look back on it, it gave us life," Wannstedt said. "That would be the way that I would classify it. By that I mean we had so many recruits that were right on the bubble, and it gave us an opportunity to get one more shot at these guys and to say [to them] that it will happen and to believe in us. I think it was energizing for our players.
"Winning that game, I can remember the first day of the off-season program in January. We had as much enthusiasm, from a team standpoint, to get started and to try to build on that for the next year, which was last year, as any. I'm sure just for our fans it was a shot in the arm, a little bit of hope.
"I really think it helped our program in several areas that today we look back on and probably it was the turning point since I've been here, without a doubt."
Wannstedt said an immediate benefit of that victory was that the Panthers got about eight commitments within the next week or two and that included commitments from a few players who were at the game on official visits with West Virginia.
"I remember going out there for pregame warm-ups, and the recruits were all lined up on the sidelines and I looked over and could see all of these kids that we were recruiting and that they were recruiting," Wannstedt said. "Two or three of those kids that were right there [at the game] committed with us."
Wannstedt did not name the players he was referring to, but it has been well-documented that redshirt freshmen defensive end Shayne Hale and wide receiver Cameron Saddler, two Gateway High School graduates, were swayed by that game.
Saddler has told the story about how he was on an official visit to West Virginia that weekend but walked off the field with Pitt's players and went to their locker room. Pitt also picked up a commitment from receiver Mike Shanahan of Norwin -- who chose Pitt instead of West Virginia -- shortly after the game.
"That game put us on the map," said defensive tackle Mick Williams. "You can believe that."