Anderson: Merits of Pitt's football slate open to debate

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The reviews have been in for a couple of weeks, and the consensus seems to be that the 2007 Pitt football schedule -- particularly the home portion -- is about as appealing as a trip to Siberia in winter.

If you listen and read, there have been suggestions that Panthers season-ticket holders are considering, or should consider, ditching their seats for this season and waiting until next year to see if the lineup at Heinz Field will be better than what's coming this fall: Eastern Michigan, Grambling State, Connecticut, Navy, Cincinnati, Syracuse and South Florida.

The thought seems to be that since Pitt doesn't sell out the 65,050 seats for its home games, there won't be much if any downgrade in seat selection for those inclined to skip this year and return for 2008.

There are several ways to view this. Let's do some comparison shopping.

Penn State has a home slate that includes Florida International, Notre Dame, Buffalo, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Purdue. The highlights would be the Fighting Irish, Kirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes and, of course, the always ballyhooed Buckeyes. The lowlights would be Florida International and Buffalo, with Wisconsin and Purdue a wash.

West Virginia's home games are against Western Michigan, East Carolina, Mississippi State, Louisville, Connecticut and Pitt. That's a little stronger than Pitt's list of visitors.

There's a potential Big East Conference title showdown against Louisville and the Backyard Brawl. Then there's a drop-off to somewhat interesting non-conference schools led by well-followed coaches Skip Holtz and Sylvester Croom. That leaves another directional Mid-American Conference school and a downtrodden Big East team. And notice there are only six home games.

Ohio State is roughly the same driving distance from Pittsburgh as Penn State.

The Buckeyes' home games are against Youngstown State, Akron, Northwestern, Kent State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Illinois. Someone as cynical as a Pitt fan might size that up as seven afternoons you would never get back in your life.

Yet there doesn't seem to be the moaning in Columbus that we've had here over the Pitt schedule. On one message board devoted to the Buckeyes, they're counting the days until Youngstown State.

In a recent interview with the Post-Gazette's Paul Zeise, Pitt athletic director Jeff Long said he was stung by criticism of the Panthers' 2007 schedule and defended the lineup by pointing out that it's the university's policy to mix winnable games with marquee teams; that Michigan State and Virginia are strong opponents, even though those games are on the road; that Pitt has upcoming games or series with Notre Dame, Miami, North Carolina State, Iowa and Clemson; and that scheduling five non-conference opponents is difficult in years when the Panthers have just three Big East home games.

Part of the problem -- if you believe there is a problem -- is the conference scheduling. West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers are on the same cycle for Pitt. That is, the Panthers play all three on the road or at home in alternating years. Sort of a feast or famine setup.

But let's say Long petitions the Big East to change that order in coming seasons so that the Panthers get at least one of those heavyweights at home every season. If the conference agreed -- and that's a precedent the Big East should not set -- who is to say that the same teams will remain marquee programs? Don't forget the place Rutgers held in the Big East during the first decade or more of the football conference, or, conversely, the place Syracuse held.

While Long's points are good, there's one he likely wouldn't be comfortable making.

It's one that should be made.

It's this:

Real Pitt fans don't worry about the opponents at Heinz Field. They go to see the Panthers.

Big games and cool matchups are great, but they should be secondary if you care about Pitt.

Do you think that Penn State fans will ignore the Florida International game or West Virginia fans will thumb their noses at the Western Michigan game or the Ohio State faithful will boycott the Youngstown State game? Of course, they won't.

Pitt fans don't travel well to bowl games. The least they could do is show up in large numbers for their school's home games.

Try going to the Pitt-Grambling game to see how the replacements for quarterback Tyler Palko, linebacker H.B. Blades and cornerback Darrelle Revis look. You even get the respected Grambling band for extra entertainment.

Analyze all you want. Complain. Look ahead to better matchups.

But please, show up or shut up.


Shelly Anderson can be reached at shanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1721.


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