Penn State coach James Franklin is waiting until Pitt comes to town to celebrate the 2016 Big Ten championship.
By Adam Bittner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Penn State announced quietly over the weekend that it’s going to wait until the second week of the upcoming season to celebrate its 2016 Big Ten championship.
Weird, right? Especially for a program that’s made such a public spectacle of focusing on the present from week to week. You remember coach James Franklin’s “[Opponent’s name], [Opponent’s name], [Opponent’s name], [Opponent’s name], [Opponent’s name], [Opponent’s name]” tweets down the stretch last year. He didn’t want any distractions.
So why not get the celebrating over with early, especially with cannon fodder like Akron in Happy Valley for Week 1?
I’ll tell you why. It’s because Penn State is playing Pitt at home in Week 2, and Penn State wants to take the opportunity to rub the Panthers’ faces in the confetti, because Pitt is Penn State’s rival.
Franklin and Co. might not be quite ready to acknowledge that verbally. Here was his take on the question of whether Pitt is Penn State’s rival last year, before his team lost at Heinz Field Sept. 10 in the teams’ first meeting since 2000.
“To me, a rivalry, there is no doubt it’s there from a historical perspective, but once again, to me, a rivalry isn't something that you have to have a discussion about. The fans, the media, the players, the coaches, all view it that way.
“Once again, none of our players have ever played against Pitt and none of our players have ever seen a Penn State-Pitt game in their lifetime. Again, I don't think they're watching many games at 2, 3, and 4 years old. So there are elements there from an historical perspective. There is no doubt about it. But, again, our players haven't done that.”
Bitter losses can change attitudes pretty quickly in college football, though. As it turned out, that 42-39 loss — which ended with Pitt’s Ryan Lewis intercepting Penn State’s Trace McSorley with the Lions driving to tie or win the game in the final minutes — probably cost 11-2 Penn State a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Pitt fans have been chirping “42-39!” ever since, and its coaching staff has no doubt been trying to make hay of it on the recruiting trail. (Though the results of those efforts have been questionable.)
It’s only natural for Penn State to use its championship to clap back. The Panthers did, after all, end up having a pretty mediocre 8-5 season last year despite beating Penn State. Wheeling a crystal football out on the field and hanging “2016” with past championship teams on the east luxury box facade in front of the dozens of recruits who figure to be at Beaver Stadium that day sends a powerful message that the Lions are the bigger cats in the Commonwealth despite the result of one game.
It’s also super petty, and you don’t pull petty stuff on just any run-of-the-mill non-conference opponent.
Actions speak louder than words, and whether Franklin and/or his players come right out and say it over the next few months or not, this gesture you all you need to know about how Penn State feels about Pitt now that the missing recent history has been filled in by a crushing defeat.
The Lions want it. They want it bad. Because Pitt is their rival.
Adam Bittner: email@example.com and Twitter, @fugimaster24.
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