Penn St Pittsburgh Football

Penn State head coach James Franklin, left, shakes hands with Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi following an NCAA college football game in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Penn State won 51-6. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

As Saturday afternoon nears, so too does the end of the Pitt-Penn State series. Saturday’s game will be the 100th meeting between the two schools since they first played Nov. 6, 1893.

The game that pitted the Keystone State’s two biggest college football programs against each other was played every year from 1901 to 1931, resumed in 1935 and was played annually until 1992 with a four-year resumption starting in 1997. 

The rivalry took a 16-year hiatus before the Panthers hosted the Nittany Lions at Heinz Field in 2016.

Now the series is about to end, without another matchup scheduled. One seems unlikely to occur anytime soon, with Penn State agreeing to a series with Temple for the 2026-27 seasons and Pitt agreeing to a home-and-home with Wisconsin over the same span. Penn State also has a matchup with Delaware scheduled for 2026, leaving the Nittany Lions with only one non-conference game left to schedule.

College football is a sport built on history and tradition. 

The Pitt-Penn State rivalry has plenty of both and fans and alumni of the two schools have expressed a desire for the game to be played on a regular basis.

But a yearly matchup between the Panthers and Nittany Lions has become a challenging proposition due to conference scheduling rules.

With the evolution of college football and the Power Five conferences, scheduling non-conference opponents has become more difficult.

Pitt, an ACC school, is in a different conference than each of its traditional rivals, Penn State and West Virginia, who are in the Big Ten and Big 12, respectively. Neither of the three schools have found a true rival in their respective conferences. Attempting to schedule either traditional rival is further complicated by the Big Ten and Big 12 each playing a nine-game conference schedule, leaving room for only three non-conference opponents each year.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has been vocal about wanting the game to be played on yearly basis, saying at his Monday press conference that “of course” he thinks the game should continue.

“But it doesn’t matter what I think,” Narduzzi said. 

“Nobody cares what I think. 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?’”

Narduzzi also pointed to the geography of the two schools. Heinz Field and Beaver Stadium sit just 139 miles apart, meaning Pitt and Penn State are closer to one another than either is to any of their conference opponents.

“Of course, we all want to play this game,” Narduzzi said. “It’s just a close game. We’re going to jump on the bus on Friday, it’s close enough to get on a bus. We don’t have to go wait at an airport, don’t have to go through customs, we don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to empty our pockets. We jump on a bus and we go.

“So we certainly want to play that game.”

Throughout his tenure at Pitt, which began a year before the series with Penn State resumed, Narduzzi has been adamant about how important the rivalry with Penn State is, a stance he reiterated on Monday.

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

Listening to Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey talk, it’s clear that not only the head coach considers it a rivalry. Morrissey, who is from the greater Philadelphia area, says he knows a lot of current Penn State students.

“Some of my closest friends go to Penn State,” Morrissey said. “I don’t like them one bit; that’s pretty obvious, I play for Pitt.

“I’m excited to play them.”

Others from outside either university are dumbfounded that the game isn’t played every year. Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson commented on it during his Tuesday press conference.

“Growing up in Pennsylvania and western New York, in the northeast the Pitt-Penn State game was the biggest rivalry of the year,” Clawson continued.

“It sickens me that that game isn’t played every year.”

“I don’t know why they wouldn’t continue it,” Morrissey said of the Pitt-Penn State game. “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.”


Amanda Filipcic-Godsey is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers Pitt football and basketball for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey

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