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Ben State Football: One Game Won't Change Balance Of Power, But A Series Can

by on September 05, 2016 2:15 PM

This week is admittedly a little weird.

Penn State and Pitt are playing for the first time in forever with two teams that represent not the best but not the worst of what each have churned out over the years. Pitt is trying to be the upstart revolutionary in the state's football ecosystem and Penn State is trying to fend off both the Panthers and their equally ambitious brethren in Temple some six hours east of Heinz Field.

So the result is a lot of hyperbole. Somebody somewhere is going to write about how this game has the potential to massively change the course of either team's future. A win for Pitt and it's a tangible step forward for a program that has made a few of those in recent years. A loss for Penn State and the mighty Nittany Lions aren't so mighty anymore.

But is that really true?

Consider last year as Temple humiliated Penn State to open the season, sacking prized quarterback Christian Hackenberg 10 times and hitting him even more. This wasn't a last second field goal win that stole a victory, this was a better team simply beating a worse team. This was a defining win that came without much room for "what if."

And then Temple went on to have a great season, a loss to Notre Dame finally ending a cinderella playoff dream. It was the best Temple has had to offer in virtually forever and in theory it could have changed things. Especially in a year where Penn State was anything but a fun watch.

But nothing really changed.

Sure, Penn State lost and the program's pride took a hit, but James Franklin still went out and signed a Top 25 recruiting class as Penn State continued to take small steps out of the darkness of the sanction era. It wasn't the best way to start the season, but the balance of power didn't change. Even more apparent as Temple lost to Army to open this season while Penn State (eventually) beat Kent State in convincing fashion.

And that's because Penn State has almost always beaten Temple.

In sports there is an anticipation that something weird will happen eventually. It's actually what makes a No.16 seed having never beat a No.1 seed so bizarre. You just expect stupid things to happen because nearly everyone everywhere gets upset sooner or later. There are too many games for the the outlier to never exist.

So Penn State lost to Temple, once in a long line of victories. A bad loss, but at last check Penn State is still very much Penn State. Whatever exactly that means.

While the frequency of play has been far less often than Temple, this upcoming series between Penn State and Pitt faces that same challenge. Pitt could very well beat Penn State this weekend, it wouldn't even be a shock. But it won't change anything, at least not right away. Pitt will still land a few big names locally, Penn State will still have some of the best attendance numbers in the nation and recruit well because of it. 60 minutes of football by two potentially slightly above average teams isn't going to erase decades of results.

And that's what makes this week so weird. It is maybe the most anticipated game Penn State has had since the 2005 Ohio State contest but with only marginal stakes for the season itself. 

The result is a game that can set a trend for the big picture. Penn State and Pitt will play at least three more times over the next three years and that will go a long way towards helping shape the perception of these two programs within the state. A Penn State sweep and it's the status quo. Three Pitt wins and maybe the tide can be turned. A series split and it will depend on what those games actually looked like.

The point is simply this, Penn State and Pitt are playing in a massive game this weekend, there is no doubt about that.

But the outcome and the impact may not be felt for a few more years.

If nothing else though, bragging rights are on the line between two rivals. And sometimes those stakes are big enough all on their own.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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