Cook: Saturday's college try falls flat for Pitt, Penn State, West Virginia


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So which was worst? Pitt's close road loss Saturday against an overmatched, undersized Navy team? Penn State's seven-touchdown road loss against No. 4 powerhouse Ohio State? Or West Virginia's lopsided loss at Kansas State after an inexcusable fourth-quarter collapse?

It's debatable, but this much isn't:

It has been a long time since the three major college football teams in our little corner of the world played so terribly on the same Saturday.

Here's another interesting question:

Which program is in the best shape as November approaches, both for the short and long term?

I'm having a really difficult time liking any of 'em.

No matter how hard Pitt (4-3) tries, it can't generate any buzz. It's the same story year after year. The 24-21 loss to Navy -- a try-hard team that was beaten by Western Kentucky and Toledo earlier this fall -- was Pitt's third of the season, extending its embarrassing streak of at least three defeats to 32 years. More losses could be coming quickly; Pitt is a 10-point underdog Saturday at Georgia Tech and must play Notre Dame Nov. 9 at Heinz Field. There's also a home game Nov. 29 against No. 7 Miami.

Penn State (4-3) wasn't even competitive in its 63-14 loss against Ohio State, which has won 20 games in a row. It trailed, 42-7, at halftime. It couldn't match Ohio State's speed. Too bad there wasn't a mercy rule. There weren't many "We Are!" chants that day. There were a lot more "We Wish We Weren't" chants.

West Virginia (3-5) gave up the final 28 points in its 35-12 loss to Kansas State, a mediocre Big 12 Conference team. The stage is too big and too bright for the Mountaineers in their new league. They have lost three consecutive Big 12 games this year and nine of their past 12, giving up 35, 37, 73, 16, 50, 55, 39, 55 and 49 points in the losses. A game at TCU this week and a home game against Texas Nov. 9 should add to their misery.

So which was the worst defeat?

The vote here goes to Penn State's. It had been 114 years since it was beaten that badly. It probably will be another 114 years before it happens again.

Pitt's loss was a close second. Do you believe some Pitt players said afterward their team might have been overconfident and complacent. Really? They had to be kidding, right? What have those players ever done to be overconfident and complacent against any opponent?

As for the program in the best shape?

Penn State.

Everything is cyclical in sports, but the Big Ten Conference is weaker than the Big 12 and the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pitt's new league. Penn State has winnable games left against Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue and Nebraska. It should get thumped Nov. 30 at Wisconsin, but an 8-4 record isn't out of the question.

Long term, Penn State will benefit from the reduction in the ridiculous sanctions handed down by the NCAA in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal. It shouldn't have been sanctioned at all because that was a criminal matter, not an NCAA matter. The NCAA took at least a partial step in September toward making things right, allowing Penn State 75 scholarships in 2014 instead of 65. The number will grow to 80 in 2015 and 85 in 2016.

My only concern about Penn State is that coach Bill O'Brien isn't likely to stay long. He has done a great job in his 1½ seasons -- Saturday aside -- but the NFL probably will lure him. The days of a coach staying 62 years in Happy Valley or 31 years or maybe even three years are over.

Pitt's challenge remains the same -- trying to become relevant in a pro sports town. It doesn't have the benefit of mostly unwavering fan support that Penn State does. Compare the unbelievable white-out scene of 107,884 people at Penn State's 43-40, four-overtime home win Oct. 12 against Michigan with the sad scene at Pitt's home game Oct. 19 against Old Dominion. If you love Pitt, both were enough to make you want to cry.

I believe Pitt has a good coach in Paul Chryst. This is his second season. He deserves time to build his program. The job must seem impossible to Chryst at times -- it certainly does to me -- but we certainly know in this town that nothing is impossible in sports. Think Pirates.

It's hard to believe West Virginia is headed anywhere but down. It's not just all of those long, brutal trips to Texas and Oklahoma. Reports indicate athletic director Oliver Luck is the leading candidate for the open Texas job. Luck brought coach Dana Holgorsen to Morgantown and could take him to Austin.

Then again, the way West Virginia has struggled in the Big 12, Mountaineers fans might be all for both leaving.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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