Curtis Bray tackles Lance Lonergan

Pitt’s Curtis Bray tackles Penn State quarterback Lance Lonergan for a sack during a 1988 game in State College. Tribune-Democrat file photo

Sadly, when Pitt and Penn State meet Saturday for a noon kickoff at Beaver Stadium, it will be the last game between the in-state rivals for the foreseeable future.

This weekend’s game will be the 100th meeting between the two schools in a series that dates back to 1893, with the Nittany Lions holding a 52-43-4 edge. The teams played each other every year from 1901 to 1931, resumed in 1935 and played every year until 1992, with a four-year resumption starting in 1997. After being dormant for 16 years, the rivalry was renewed at Heinz Field in 2016, beginning a four-game set that ends Saturday.

For years, the rivalry was among the best in college football, joining the likes of Ohio State-Michigan, Auburn-Alabama and Oklahoma-Texas as the most-anticipated matchups of the season, many times with regional or national implications on the line. The games featured the likes of Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett and Hugh Green from Pitt, and Todd Blackledge, Matt Millen and Curt Warner from Penn State.

But the landscape of college football has changed over the years. Penn State joined the Big Ten Conference in 1990, and Pitt left the Big East to become a member of the ACC in 2011. Because of Power Five conference scheduling rules, a once-great rivalry is about to end for who knows how long.

Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke said last year that Pitt had approached Penn State about renewing the series in 2026, and sent a formal agreement to State College, but the deal was never signed.

Both coaches have expressed their desire to see the series continue.

“I think everybody in the state of Pennsylvania that’s not sitting in a football office somewhere in this state would say, ‘Hey, why don’t we play this game?’ “ said Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. “Of course, we all want to play this game. It’s just a close game.

“It’s a big game. It’s another game for us, but it’s a big game because it’s a rivalry game, in state.”

Penn State coach James Franklin added: “The games have been awesome. That first game (in 2016) was an unbelievable game. I think we had the largest crowd in Heinz Field history for any sporting event. It’s been very competitive… There’s no doubt about it – I get it, and I understand the significance of it. A lot of it is just bragging rights, people going back work on Monday ... it just hits a little bit closer to home.”

Even coaches outside of the programs recognize the significance of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry. 

“Growing up in Pennsylvania and western New York, in the northeast, the Pitt-Penn State game was the biggest rivalry of the year,” said Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson. “It sickens me that that game isn’t played every year.”

Count Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey as among those who want to see the series extended.

“I’m excited to play (Penn State),” he said. “I don’t know who’s not continuing it – if we’re not or they’re not, or if it’s both sides. I think it’s great for the fans and great for the universities.

“It’s a good rivalry. I don’t know why they wouldn’t continue it.”

Blackledge, a former Penn State quarterback and current college football analyst, tweeted: “I know the arguments and understand the economics. But if it works for UGA-GA TECH, FLA-FSU, and CLEMSON-S CAROLINA, then I believe PITT & PENN STATE and TEXAS & TEXAS A&M can figure it out. Those unique intrastate games are great for the state and for all of college football!”

We couldn’t agree more, and we urge officials from both universities to come together and try to work out a deal that would have Pitt and Penn State play each other on a yearly basis. The proximity of the schools, shared recruiting territory and rabid fan bases should make it a no-brainer. Make it happen.

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