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Penn State Football: 100 Days Till Pitt

by on June 02, 2016 1:20 PM

In 100 days it will finally happen again.

Penn State and Pitt will take the same field for the first time since 2000 when the Panthers beat the Nittany Lions 12-0. It'll mark the 97th meeting between the two teams and the first in a four game series that will see meeting No. 100 take place at Beaver Stadium in 2019.

It will also mark a major moment in the not so new tenures of James Franklin and Pat Narduzzi at their respective schools. If you ascribe to the notion that Franklin is entering Year 1 of the program being full functional post-sacntions rather than Year 3, it's his first big moment to assert that Penn State is on its way towards being the program it once was. Maybe still far from national prominence, but that hasn't truly been the case with or without sanctions for quite some time.

For Narduzzi it's a tangible opportunity to prove that Pitt isn't the butt of the joke so many make it out to be. That while the Panthers' schedule may never be full of the Big Ten's best, that Pitt continues to be a viable option for some the best recruits in the region.

Beating Penn State, no matter when or where, is a victory that Pitt will take each and every time. It in large part is the same reason why Penn State has to take Rutgers and Maryland seriously even if it requires swallowing pride. Beating those teams is important because it's avoiding the possibility of losing to them. Lose to Michigan and it's just another game, lose to Rutgers, Maryland or Pitt and it's a step backwards.

And that ultimately is what this entire series will come down to, the perception of two programs. No place demonstrates this kind of thing better than European football (or soccer for the uninitiated) a place where managers can win countless games, but lose in the wrong tournament or fail to beat a bitter rival one too many times, and it's over. Take Pep Guardiola for example, the former manager of German powerhouse Bayern Munich. Under his watch one of the best teams in the entire world went 121-21-19 over the span of three years, but they failed to win when it mattered the most. Guardiola, one of the best managers on the planet, was essentially criticized and pressured for small handful of losses.

Now it's safe to say neither Franklin nor Narduzzi face those same pressures, but the perception that this series can bring to the table is perhaps far more important than the actual outcome and how it impacts the rest of the season. Penn State will not in fact lose its ability to recruit Pittsburgh if the Nittany Lions lose this September and Pitt will not catapult itself among the nation's elite because of a single victory.

But the hordes will turn on Franklin if things go as poorly as they did against Temple last fall and the western end of the state will swarm behind Narduzzi if he win Game 1 of the series. From there things will only intensify as the series goes along, imagine Penn State coming back to Beaver Stadium in 2017 down 0-1 in the series, imagine the stakes then. Imagine losing Game 1 and coming back to face Temple and losing back-to-back weeks to the two up and coming programs in the state.

So yes, it's just a game and Penn State has many on its schedule that will shape how the season is perceived.

But then again, that didn't necessarily help Guardiola.



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