One of the topics discussed at last week’s ACC spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., was the idea of reserving the final week of the regular season for built-in rivalry games.
There’s only one problem: Pitt-West Virginia doesn’t exist anymore.
For half the ACC, this is a no-brainer. It’s already become an expected date on the schedule for many schools, like Virginia Tech-Virginia, Wake Forest-Vanderbilt, Clemson-South Carolina, Florida State-Florida and Georgia Tech-Georgia. NC State-North Carolina is another logical option. With the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to league this July, though, the idea of a rivalry week becomes a little more complicated.
Virginia Tech should be Pitt’s top ACC rival -- and that doesn’t have to diminish or replace what the Hokies already have going with (or, more accurately, against) Virginia.
Virginia Tech fans will gladly tell you the Hokies have owned UVa for nine straight seasons and 13 of the past 14. It is a rivalry in proximity and between the fan bases, but it has lost much of its luster on the field because of the lopsided results in the series. That doesn’t diminish the importance of the game. Last year, bowl eligibility was on the line for Virginia Tech. In 2011, the Hokies clinched the Coastal Division title against a surging Virginia team that had won four straight and finally appeared ready to make a serious run at the Commonwealth Cup. It was a similar situation to 2007, and again the Hokies came out on top.
In order for a rivalry to truly exist, there must be geographical and recruiting relevance, familiarity, meaningful games and history between the programs. Pitt and Virginia Tech have all of the above as former members of the Big East. In 2000, Virginia Tech beat Pitt on a last-second field goal. In 2002, Larry Fitzgerald had his breakout season, and Pitt rallied from a 21-7 deficit to beat Virginia Tech 28-21. In 2003, Pitt scored a touchdown with 47 seconds remaining to beat No. 5-ranked Virginia Tech in what would become one of the best games played at Heinz Field, college or pro. And last year? Ugh. If Virginia Tech isn't ready to pounce on Oct. 12 in Blacksburg and redeem itself, somebody should make sure the Lunch Pail hasn't been painted pink.
Virginia Tech-Pitt is a rivalry that can continue to grow, even if it’s not played on the final week of the regular season.
Two other top rivalry options for Pitt would be Boston College and Miami -- because of their obvious history in the Big East -- but with BC in the Atlantic Division, those games could have less relevance to the division standings and their meetings would be less frequent. BC and Pitt haven’t played since 2004, but their history dates back to 1959. If you’re looking for the regular-season finale, though, Miami seems like the most logical option. The two have history in the Big East, the Canes aren’t tied up with an SEC game and the game will have meaning to the Coastal Division standings. This year’s scheduling might be the first step toward building that rivalry, as Miami ends the season at Pitt on Friday after Thanksgiving in a nationally televised game. Pitt hasn’t had much success against the Canes in recent years, though, as Miami leads the series 22-9-1 and Pitt hasn’t won since 1997. How the series with Georgia Tech evolves will also be intriguing, but the two city schools have little recent history.
The good news for Pitt is that there are plenty of options in the ACC for a rivalry to be either renewed or created -- regardless of whether or not it's played on the final week of the regular season. Which one gets your vote?